death by love wins (a tale of two pastors)
“Death by love,” I repeated. “The author’s name is Mark Driscoll. D-R-I-S-C-O-L-L.”
The thin, wiry librarian sitting in front of me leaned slowly forward. She nodded and began delicately clacking at the keyboard in front of her, using only her two index fingers. As I waited, I considered pulling out my phone, just to pretend I had something else to do.
“No, I’m sorry. There’s no book here by that name,” she breathed. “We do have the other books you asked for, though. John Piper and Tim Keller, correct?”
“Yes, thank you,” I replied, glancing up from my cell phone’s screen, annoyed. How could they not carry this Death by Love book here? It had been recommended to me by many friends. This Driscoll guy is supposed to be famous, and the book is supposed to be really powerful.
“Those other books are in the religious studies/Christianity aisle,” she said. “Section AB 120-132. Would you like me to write that down for you?”
“No thank you,” I smiled with thin lips. I had no intention of waiting so patiently for another four minutes.
* * * * *
“Ooh,” Mary Ann* said, shaking her head, “you don’t want to read that book.”
We were walking around the second floor of the library, wandering through my favorite aisle, when she stopped, almost as if ordered, and pointed towards a book on the shelf.
“Why not?” I asked, gripping its pleasant red spine and lifting it to my face.
“Be careful with that,” Mary Ann intoned, unconsciously taking a step back. “That book was written by this pastor who used to be a Real Christian…but then he started questioning everything and now he’s written this book that says hell doesn’t even exist and that no one goes there,” she explained. “He used to be not bad at all but now, he’s a liberal.” Her voice deepened to a whisper: “He’s a heretic.”
The book immediately took on an otherworldly weight in my hand. I was at once filled with an inexplicable dread and the burning urge to stop touching the thing. I laid it back on the shelf as gingerly as I could, as if it were a sleeping infant who would transform into a tyrant upon being aroused from sleep. We continued walking down the aisle and talking about the ways our faith had been challenged by Christians who stopped believing in the clear words of the Bible.
A week later, I came back to the library alone. I picked up the book and carefully read the inside flap. I considered opening to an actual page, but found myself lacking the courage to do so without an invisibility cloak. I placed the book back on the shelf and quickly scurried out the door. None of my ministry friends from Joyous Jihad for Jesus* could ever know about this.
* * * * *
Weeks later, I finally got around to ordering “Death by God” on Amazon. I plopped down on my bed night after night and tried reading it, but I was so bothered by the author’s aggression, by the way this pastor was speaking about his manliness and wanting to hurt people…about how God also wanted to hurt people…that I couldn’t read more than a few chapters. I replaced the book on my shelf above my computer and wrote in my journal that night: “I’m not spiritually ready enough for this book. Pray and read the Bible more then come back when I have more maturity.”
I eventually stole a copy of Love Wins and breezed through it in days. Rob Bell said that maybe there’s another way to think about heaven and hell, and it didn’t infuriate me as much as I was told it should. After all, these were the same things I’d been reading my hero C.S. Lewis say for a while now. I discreetly passed the copy on to several of my close friends. I felt doubly guilty afterwards, for now I was both a thief and a heretic.
Surely they would crucify me if they ever found out.