CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A review of Death By Love. By Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.

Feb 26, 2009

Crossway, 2008. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)

Generally speaking the phrase ‘emerging church’ is not usually found in the same sentence containing such words as ‘conservative’, ‘traditional’, and ‘orthodox’. That is because so many of the emerging church leaders take pride in being cool, hip, trendy, radical, new, subversive and innovative. They tend to look down on those churches which stress the need for, and the importance of, biblical and theological orthodoxy.

Indeed, many emerging church leaders specialise in creating unhelpful and unbiblical dichotomies. They insist that we must choose between love, relationship, and community on the one hand, or theology, doctrine, and teaching on the other. They even tend to drive a wedge between the love of God and the holiness and justice of God. Of course the Bible always keeps these together. It is not either/or but both/and.

Thus it is extremely refreshing to find an emerging church leader who does indeed keep these together. I refer to Mark Driscoll, who is solidly in favour of sound doctrine, biblical literacy, the importance of theology and the need to retain classic Christian thinking. And he certainly thinks that the love of God can never be separated from his holiness and even his wrath.

Image of Death by Love (Paperback Edition): Letters from the Cross (Re:Lit:Vintage Jesus)
Death by Love (Paperback Edition): Letters from the Cross (Re:Lit:Vintage Jesus) by Mark Driscoll, Gerry Breshears Amazon logo

Thus this new book on the atonement stands in marked contrast to many of the other volumes by the emerging church leaders. Many of them have been rejecting key doctrines in our understanding of the cross. Indeed, many of them have been jettisoning major biblical themes, be it hell, the exclusivity of Christ, or the uniqueness of biblical revelation.

Not so Mark Driscoll. Here he, along with theology professor Gerry Breshears, presents the orthodox case for the atonement. Indeed, he fearlessly and unashamedly proclaims core teachings that many Christians are shying away from, including the penal substitution, propitiation, and the reality of eternal punishment.

What makes this book unique as it deals with basic biblical themes about the cross is how it is presented. It is a mix of theology and pastoral counselling. The twelve chapters discussing the atonement are based on twelve true cases of individuals who are pastored by Driscoll.

Each chapter begins with several pages of an individual’s story, followed by perhaps a dozen pages of Driscoll responding in theological and pastoral fashion to their story, followed by a few pages of theological questions and answers by Breshears.

Thus the moving story of Bill and how he was regularly beaten by his father is followed up by a discussion of propitiation. Bill’s sense of anger and outrage at how his dad also beat his mother and siblings reflect God’s anger and sense of justice violated when we sin.

A just God must hate sin, and must act against it. Therefore Bill’s reactions were in many ways similar to how God reacts to sin and injustice. Of course God’s anger is always a perfect anger, a righteous indignation. Our anger is often tainted by bitterness, selfishness and a desire for revenge. But genuine anger at sin, injustice and oppression is a thoroughly biblical response.

Or consider Mary’s story of how she endured two years of sexual abuse and rape at the hands of her boyfriend. In addition to the hurt and sense of betrayal, Mary struggled with loads of guilt and shame. In his counsel to Mary, Driscoll reminds her of what Christ accomplished at Calvary.

He reminds her that not only did Christ go to the cross for her sin, but he also did so to scorn her shame, as Heb. 12:1-3 teaches. Jesus knows all about the disgrace, shame and defilement that she has experienced. Jesus too was betrayed by someone he loved and considered to be a friend.

Driscoll reminds Mary of the Day of Atonement, and how two goats were involved, one as a sacrifice of propitiation, and one as a scapegoat of expiation. The work of Christ embraces both elements. The just wrath of God against sin is dealt with, as is the guilt and shame of sin.

Thomas’s addiction to lust and adultery is also dealt with by Driscoll. He reminds him that sin has consequences, and unless he is willing to let Christ set him free from the chains of sin and self, he will simply be unable to appropriate God’s forgiveness and cleansing.

Driscoll does not mince any words as he offers biblical rebuke to Thomas who clearly seems to be a believer in name only. His real god is lust, and his only worry is public exposure at being caught. He has no sense of his own sinfulness, or how he is by his actions nailing Christ afresh to the cross.

Driscoll reminds him of the Exodus story, and how it was impossible for Israel to set itself free from Egyptian bondage. Only Yahweh’s miraculous intervention could bring deliverance. In the same way only the perfect work of Christ at Calvary has the power to set sinners free, and to give us the desire to live for God and not for self.

Just as the Israelites were spared the wrath of God if they had the blood sprinkled on the doorposts of their dwellings, so today we can escape the wrath of God as the just punishment of our sin if we are covered by the blood of Christ, our Passover.

Driscoll also reminds Thomas of other key biblical themes such as ransom and redemption. He relates how Christ redeemed us from the slave market of sin. By his blood he purchased our freedom, just as a Roman slave could be set free by the payment of a ransom.

He informs Thomas that biblical repentance means changing his mind about who the real god of his life is. Will his god continue to be sexual encounters and the lies and deceit that go with it, or will it be the Holy God of the universe who bids us to be perfect as he is perfect.

All in all this is a unique and invaluable book. It involves real life stories about those who struggle with everyday problems. Thus it has plenty of pastoral concern and insights from biblical counselling. But it is also thoroughly biblically-based. Indeed, sound theology is the platform from which wise counsel is offered.

Without a solid understanding and appreciation of the core biblical doctrines associated with the atonement, there is no wise counsel available to these struggling individuals. Changed lives can only come about by standing on the firm foundation of solid beliefs and basic biblical theology.

Thus Driscoll wants nothing to do with the common emerging church tendency to play down, minimise and even scorn theology, biblical doctrine, and orthodox Christian beliefs. We help no one if we play fast and loose with vital biblical teachings.

Paul said we are to guard our life and our doctrine closely. God is concerned about both, and the two always go together. Orthopraxis is predicated upon orthodoxy. Driscoll knows that only a firm allegiance to the Word of God and fundamental Christian doctrine will help a needy and broken world.

This wonderful mix of sound theology and practical application is how the emerging church should be operating. Unfortunately Driscoll tends to be a lone voice here. But the many deficiencies, weaknesses and imbalance of much of the emerging church movement are very nicely countered in the ministry of Driscoll, and by this, his newest book. It deserves a wide reading.

[1230 words]

6 Responses to A review of Death By Love. By Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.

  • Very sound!
    Stephen White

  • Bill. Mark Driscoll very clearly separates himself from the emerging church. He was associated in the early days with a lot of the leading proponents of it now but makes no bones about his disdain over their rejection of orthodox Christianity and biblical truth. I am only just getting my head around where he is coming from and find him challenging on a number of issues but he always comes across as a sound biblical expositor and fearless preacher of Christ. He did a series a little while ago called “Religion Saves – and Nine Other Misconceptions” and one of the sermons was on the emerging church. Here if you have not already seen or heard it. http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/religionsaves/emerging-church

    Forgive me if it seems I am splitting hairs but I think that an association with the emerging church may put some off and limit access to what I believe are some critical insights into the current cultural disconnect between much of the Church and society. I don’t always agree with Mark but I think we can learn much from his approach and boldness to preach the gospel into all areas of life.

    Keep up the great work.

    Phil Twiss

  • Thanks Phil

    I am happy to run with your version of events. The reason I put Driscoll in the EC camp was that he himself was still doing this as late as 2007. But if he has made a clean break with it since then, that is fine by me. (I see the video clip you provide – which I am now listening to – was done just a few months later: Feb. 24, 2008.) It would be hard indeed for someone who is trying so hard to retain basic biblical orthodoxy as Driscoll is to be part of the increasingly heterodox emerging church movement. Thanks for the tip.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks again Phil

    I am still listening to Driscoll. He seems to break up the EC into four lanes, and he seems to especially dislike lane 4, the emergent liberals. But he seems OK with the other three, and says he has a lot of friends and co-workers in those first three groups.. So we may be both right. The radical wing of the EC he certainly disowns, but he does not seem to disown all of the EC.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill, I have to admit I struggle a little with his irreverence and blunt criticism of things he does not relate to. I think he is quick to put down any form of tradition and yes he does throw things out very quickly that he does not think fits his image of the Church. I have not delved into his position on Biblical Law and where he thinks it fits in with the Church today, nor his views on the Church / State relationship but I suspect I might differ significantly.

    That said he does not waffle around the edges like so many do today and perhaps we could learn something from his style. As Steve Shlissel said recently, we are entering a time where we don’t have the luxury of arguing over finer points. The Church is under threat and we need to find where we can work together despite relatively minor differences. That is a challenge to me as I have enjoy the Presbyterian commitment to nailing down the finer points of doctrine. I guess now is a time to discern more than just difference but to wisely separate out what used to be called cardinal truths from less crucial ones.

    It looks like the book “Why We’re Not Emergent” is worth reading. Finding the balance between hanging onto those things worth keeping and moving forward is, as always, difficult.

    Kind Regards

    Phil Twiss

  • Bill, this book was excellent. I think it is great how it is deeply powerful, and deeply theological, while also giving clear models for applying the Cross to real situations. This is very valuable for anyone working in pastoral care, I would think. Whether you are a pastor, new Christian, old Christian, non-Christian, this book has much to say. My review is here, if you’re interested:

    http://www.greyleads.com/peroratio/review-death-love-letters-cross-mark-driscoll-gerry-breshears/

    Bill and Phil; I like the way he breaks down the EC into 4 lanes. Note that, in discussing lane 3 (‘Housechurch Emergents’?), he mentions Australians Mike Frost and Alan Hirsch as key figures.

    Simon Kennedy, VIC

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