Visiting Mars Hill Church in Seattle as a journalist can be a jarring experience. The writer expects to meet the Mark Driscoll whose confrontational style has made him a hero in some evangelical circles and a pariah in others. Indeed, Mars Hill members will go to the mat to defend their larger-than-life pastor against critics. And Driscoll will not feel the need to yield. Journalists looking for colorful copy will find it. Who would Jesus smack down? There are so many deserving targets, we learn, he wouldn't know where to begin.
But you meet another Mark Driscoll when you begin to spend more time around the people affected by his ministry. They don't always agree with him and cringe when he says things they know he will later regret. Yet it seems God has used his willingness to speak directly about the Bible and sin to deepen their love for Jesus Christ and their resolve to resist Satan's snares.
Death by Love is a book that might stir theological controversy, but it probably won't attract The New York Times's attention. Here we see Driscoll's pastoral side as he offers letters on the Atonement to friends, family, and acquaintances. The book is the second in the Re:Lit series with Crossway, which released Vintage Jesus in February 2008 and plans to publish Vintage Church at the end of January. Like Death by Love, both books were coauthored with Western Seminary theology professor Gerry Breshears.
Driscoll and Breshears aim their book at the popular level, but they do not shy away from using technical terminology. They believe all Christians should understand the meaning of words such as propitiation (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10), because the cross is "at the crux of all that it means to think and live like Jesus." Each chapter begins with a letter written by Driscoll, often addressed to someone he knows who has suffered abuse. When discussing the details of some abuse situations, Driscoll is probably a little too vivid for sensitive readers. But he can also be gentle, such as when he suggests ways for a woman who was raped to remember Jesus' love for her.
Driscoll is at his most winsome when telling his youngest son, Gideon, only one and half years old, why his daddy believes Jesus' atoning work was unlimited in scope. He also shines by vividly retelling Jesus' victory over sin and death to encourage a woman tormented by demons.
"Seeing Jesus alive, the Great Dragon snatched you as his captive, drew his sword of the law, covered with the blood of your sin, and thrust its razor-sharp point at your head, naming every sin you have committed along with the name of every boy who every touched you," Driscoll writes. "Smiling, Jesus stepped forward and declared that he already paid the penalty for your sins on the cross, canceled any right Satan had to hold you captive, and defeated your Enemy along with his servants and their works and effects in your life."
Not every letter recipient is a victim. He models Bible-based evangelism in appealing to one woman to trust in Jesus' atoning work for reconciliation with God. He also writes to a man who succumbs to lust and another who molested a child. In typically direct fashion, Driscoll begins the latter of these letters, "You are a despicable human being." If this book captures one key element of Driscoll's style, it lacks his characteristic humor. Given the content, that decision was entirely appropriate.