Looking Evil in the Face
The 21st thesis of Luther's Heidelberg Disputation makes the audacious claim that "a theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is." By these standards, 2008 was the year of the cross. Brutal, often savage honesty became the watchword in the arts. Critics heralded Roberto Bolaño's posthumous epic, 2666, with its shattering litany of rape and murder of Mexican border women, the best novel of the year. Heath Ledger's unyielding portrayal of anarchic evil as the Joker in The Dark Knight propelled the film to blockbuster status. Even Christian novelist William P. Young built The Shack, his best-selling depiction of a man's reconciliation with the Trinity, upon the bloody disappearance of his daughter. Clearly, artists and audiences longing to "call the thing what it actually is" are lifting the veil of postmodern ambiguity.
Never one to pass on cultural trends, controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll rejoins theologian Gerry Breshears in Death by Love: Letters from the Cross (Crossway) to present their take on the theology of the cross. They are convinced that "there is no such thing as Christian community or Christian ministry apart from a rigorous theology of the cross applied to the lives of real people." To demonstrate the power of the cross, the authors write letters to individuals from Driscoll's past in whom one facet of "the great jewel of the cross" is made "intensely practical for that person's life." Each of the 12 chapters deals with a specific doctrine such as expiation, propitiation, or ransom, and is followed by brief "Answers to Common Questions" penned by Breshears. Confronted with the harsh reality of human sin, the authors believe that "what every person desperately needs" is "a proper biblical understanding and personal faith in what Jesus has accomplished for them on the cross."
The book's gritty black-and-white artwork accented with slashes of red evokes the bleak brutality of the graphic novels of Frank Miller. Indeed, many of the recipients of Driscoll's letters could very well be citizens of Miller's iniquity-infested metropolis, Sin City. Katie, a victim of childhood abuse, suffers under the dread of demonic torment. Thomas is a closet pornography addict. Luke's wife slept with his best friend, and Luke is thirsty for their blood. John is a convicted child molester contemplating suicide, while Hank's litany of sexual atrocities and domestic violence leads Driscoll to brand him "the sorriest and most pathetically evil man I had ever met." More noir detective than devotional writer, Driscoll enters the seamy underworld of human depravity, a bleak part of town where Christians often fear to tread. His mission: to expose, with unrelenting honesty and apocalyptic urgency, the devastating dilemma of those entwined in the nefarious drama of "sinners and those who have been sinned against."
The Blunt-Edged Truth
Driscoll best accomplishes his goal of shining the glory of the cross into individual lives when he sticks to his strength: storytelling. In helping Katie combat feelings of abandonment by her negligent father, Driscoll adapts the warfare imagery of the battle between Jesus and the Dragon in Revelation to illustrate the doctrine of Christus Victor. The drama ends in Katie's liberation by Jesus, who stands over the fallen body of Satan with Driscoll proclaiming, "You were finally known. You were finally loved. You were finally safe." For Mary, a victim of rape, Driscoll shares the tale of a man who bought his adulterous wife a new white robe; he urges her to remember Christ as her expiation each time she washes, bathes, and wears white. And he commends Luke's righteous anger at his wife's adultery as an image of God's justice, yet urges him to remember the forgiveness bought with Jesus' new covenant sacrifice.