Death By Love – Pastoral Application of the Atonement by Driscoll and Breshears

Death By Love – Pastoral Application of the Atonement by Driscoll and Breshears October 11, 2008

I want to introduce you to a very unusual book by Mark Driscoll and his writing buddy and professor, Gerry Breshears. I would go so far as to say that this is a unique book in that I have never seen anything quite like it.

If their first book together, Vintage Jesus, was a light cheerful book that offended some by its use of humor and at times edgy topics for illustrations, this new book by these two men is more of a grungy, almost dark book. The video over at the ReLit site leaves you in no doubt that this is a book that will wrestle with darkness, pain, and even demonization.

Certainly this book represents just a tiny sample of the ocean of pain that a pastor of a large church has to handle over the years. Some neoliberals argue that people who believe in penal substitutionary atonement do not engage with the real suffering found in the world. This book demonstrates emphatically that in Driscoll’s case this is simply not true. Such critics also argue that the evangelical’s gospel can become overly narrow, eventually focusing solely on the “felt need” of the feelings of guilt many still experience. Guilt, however, is far from the only reason people come to Christ. The New Testament is full of helpful ways we can understand what Jesus did on the cross.

Without in any way softening his commitment to the centrality of Jesus taking the punishment of sin in our understanding of the cross, Driscoll is far broader in his understanding of and application of the cross to hurting people’s lives today. From convicted child molesters, to cheating husbands and raped women, Driscoll shares pen outlines of the destruction manifest in the lives of specific people to whom he has ministered. He then shows in a letter written to each individual how a specific aspect of what Jesus has done on the cross can bring wholeness and salvation to them.

This is a vital book that should be read by every Christian who is serious about reaching out with the gospel into this dark and damaged world. I will share a video of Mark speaking about the book, followed by an excerpt from one of those letters that particularly struck me. You will have to buy the book to see exactly how Driscoll and Breshears apply the gospel to Bill and his violent, abusive father.

“As a little boy you rightly felt angry at your dad, and that anger rightly compelled you to confront his injustice and protect the rest of the family. Therefore, anger can be a righteous virtue, which explains why God gets angry at sin too. The Bible is full of examples of God getting angry at sinners. A few examples will illustrate my point clearly, but a reading of Leviticus 26:27-30, Numbers 11:1, and Deuteronomy 29:24 for starters, speak of God’s anger as being hostile, burning, and furious.

Flaccid church guys will often accept that in the Old Testament God did get angry, but they will say that Jesus was a nice, emotionless, flaccid church guy, just like them, who chose a hollow, fake smile over anger every day. But even Jesus got angry, furious, and enraged . . . [Here Driscoll cites Mark 3:5 and Revelation 19, but one could also add Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, and John 2:13-17.]

In speaking of God’s anger, I want to be careful not to give permission for us to lose our temper and rage, because that is a sin—the very sin your father committed repeatedly. However, because God is perfect, his anger is perfect and, as such, is aroused slowly (Exodus 34:6-8), sometimes turned away (Deuteronomy 13:17), often delayed (Isaiah 48:9), and frequently held back (Psalm 78:38).

Furthermore, God feels angry because God hates sin (Proverbs 6:16-19, Zechariah 8:17). Sadly, it is commonly said among Christians that “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” This is as stupid as saying that God loves rapists and hates rape, as if rape and rapists were two entirely different entities that could be separated from one another. Furthermore, it was not a divinely inspired author of Scripture but the Hindu, Gandhi, who coined the phrase, “Love the sinner but hate the sin” . . .

Regarding God’s anger and hatred, it is commonly protested that God cannot hate anyone because he is love. But the Bible speaks of God’s anger, wrath, and fury more than of his love, grace, and mercy. Furthermore, it is precisely because God is love that he must hate evil and all who do evil—evil is an assault on whom and what he loves.

Therefore, Bill, your anger toward and hatred of your father are justifiable and are the healthy response to seeing your dad beat the mother and siblings you love. However, in a mysterious conflict of deep emotions, you continued to love your father just as God continues to love unrepentant sinners whom he simultaneously hates . . .

I know this will be difficult for you to comprehend, Bill, but Jesus has fully experienced what you have, and much more. Jesus was mocked and beaten, though he was without sin. He willingly substituted himself for those he loved and wanted to save . . . ”

From Death By Love by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, copyright 2008, pages 127-129. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,

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