I went into Pastor Mark’s new book Real Marriage with a lot of hesitation. I had read some blog posts that were, unfavorable. In fact, I had not read such vitriol in a blogs comments section since Pastor Rob Bell’s book on hell. There are a lot of opinions out there but one thing I found lacking in the reviews was an actual review of the book itself? It seemed like (at least to me anyway) these people were reacting to preconceived notions they had and no matter what Mark actually wrote they would still have reacted the same way.
I am endeavoring in this review to actually review the book. I will also state up front that I am going to be talking about some pretty heavy stuff. This blog will be PG-13 so please take that into consideration if you are at work reading or have filters on your computer for sexual content.
I read this book on my brand new, touch-screen Kindle. Since first making the switch over to an e-reader I have constantly been frustrated with the lack of thought that goes into publishers producing e-books. Overall this book had none of the normal copy errors I have found in other e-books and the reading experience was smooth and painless. I did have one strange moment where the heading for a section jumped into the middle of the preceding paragraph but I think there was an error on my kindle and it was not the book itself.
I found the book to progress logically and the division of the book into three parts made sense. Part 1 is entitled Marriage and opens with a brief description of the Driscoll’s own story along with a pretty standard description of their view of complementarian marital relationships. Part 2 deals with Sex in a Christian marriage and is easily the most explicit take on the subject I have ever read. Part 3 is entitled The Last Day and was good although I had a hard time reading it.
In this review I will focus on parts 1 and 2 as I found part 3 rather tedious. Before I begin though I’d like to mention one problem I had while reading the book. It was hard to know who was writing what. There is never a clear distinction at the beginning of chapters and when you finally get to a personal pronoun there is an awkward (Mark) or (Grace) inserted into the flow of the paragraph. I do not know why this bothered me so much but it did.
Right out of the gate the Driscoll’s hit you with their own struggles in marriage in a deeply personal and, honestly, depressing look into their own marriage. This is not a Disney movie. Perhaps the most shocking part of this section was when the Driscoll’s revealed that Grace had cheated on Mark when they had first started dating. Mark explains that he would have never married Grace if he had known this and struggled with the fact that she actively hid this in pre-marital counseling and even after marriage. I will save judgment (unlike many others who have blasted them both) but I found this a powerful and overwhelming start to their book. It kept you reading but it was hard to.
The chapter entitled Friends with Benefits I enjoyed immensely and I think many others have as well. The Driscoll’s go into great detail on friendship within marriage and how much of what is missing in today’s discussion on marriage is the need to be friends with your spouse. They give an acronym (good Calvinists that they are) which is a helpful way to remember that a marital friendship should be Fruitful, Reciprocal, Intimate, Enjoyable, Needed, Devoted, Sanctifying (FRIENDS). I loved this.
The next two chapters deal with the Driscoll’s view of complementary relationships within marriage. The first chapter, Men and Marriage I found to be quite a wake up call and Mark goes into a bit of detail on what he calls “Peter Pan Syndrome” in men. This is typical Mark Driscoll and it is one of the many reasons I like him. However, this chapter was almost verbatim from a sermon I heard Mark preach (listen here) and I was hoping he would go into more detail rather than rehashing a 2-year-old sermon. Overall, I enjoyed the chapter and did not find much to disagree with.
The second chapter, entitled The Respectful Wife, I think will inevitably be discussed amongst Christians in much detail as it goes into the controversial subject of gender roles in marriage. Grace Driscoll states: “A husband and wife are equals on the same mission with different roles and responsibilities. We are both reliant on God’s grace, and both called to obedience and responsibility.” (p.82) She then describes what she believes a wife’s “submission” to her husband should look like.
1. A husband is not ultimate authority in the relationship. God is.
2. A husband is not, by his God-given authority, automatically more valuable, gifted, competent, or intelligent than his wife.
3.The Bible never command women to submit to men in general.
For the most part I found the chapter to be theologically sound (her take on the Esther story was a little off). Grace rightly appeals to the similarity between marriage and the Christian Trinity. The Trinity is functionally submissive through what is called “ontological equality.” In other words, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different persons but are equal and one while practicing submission (Son to the Father, Spirit to the Son) just as a husband and wife are equal and one while practicing submission (Husband to Christ, Wife to Husband). Some disagree with this model but I tend to find this same analogy in Scripture and had no issues with it.
In part 2 of the book the Driscoll’s go into explicit detail of what sexual relationships should look like within Christian marriage. They start off the section warning fundamentalists to read the book sitting down. They also state that sexual relationships are within the confines of a heterosexual marriage and any type of sexual relationship outside of this is sinful in God’s sight. Basically, offending both Right-leaning and Left-leaning views of sexual relationships.
As a single person I found the chapters Disgrace and Grace and The Porn Path to be incredibly helpful. But, as is always the case, the more controversial sections will probably get talked about more than these two and I find that is a real shame. The Porn Path is an excellent chapter on the difficult subject of how men/women react to porn. Sadly, I can say I could relate to the struggle and found it helpful to read. I wish I had read it years ago.
Mark is very forthright in laying out how destructive porn is to not only marriage but to single men/women who view it. The most powerful part of this section was talking about how porn has changed the way men view women. Especially when looking at their neurology. This is something I love about Driscoll in his writings is that he brings in other sources from psychologists to scientists to back up his point. He does an excellent job in this chapter and I highly recommend getting the book just for these two chapters alone.
The chapter everyone will be talking about however is entitled Can we_____? and I will say again this is the most explicit part of the book. Pastor Mark looks at certain sexual acts and asks if they are okay within the confines of Christian marriage. Before he goes into these he outlines what he calls six purposes of sex that help answer the question of can we?
From here Driscoll looks at each subject matter and asks three questions:
(1) Is it lawful?
(2) Is it helpful?
(3) Is it enslaving?
Before continuing I wish to mention that I read one review that says a pastor should not be involved in answering these questions. As a minister I have faced each of these questions in personal counseling sessions as well as in one-on-one discussions. I have also been asked publicly to answer questions about masturbation, oral sex, and “how far is to far” in a dating relationship. I believe a pastor should be able to comment on these things and should comment on these things.
My resolve was only strengthened last year when I took part in a pastoral panel answering new believer questions. I was given the question about masturbation and after giving my answer another pastor on the panel rebutted what I said by appealing to the Sermon on the Mount. Masturbation was wrong because Jesus said to cut off ones hand if it caused one to sin. I sat there aghast because I was a guest on the panel and could not rebut the pastor but this type of silly answer is the very reason why good teaching on this issue is a must.
That said, Pastor Mark answers the three above questions (lawful, helpful, enslaving) on the following sexual acts or related subjects to it:
Masturbation, Oral Sex, Anal Sex, Menstrual Sex, Role-Playing, Sex Toys, Birth Control, Cosmetic Surgery, Cybersex, Sexual Medication, and Marital Sexual Assault.
I cannot go into detail on each of these but I found the Driscoll’s answers to be well thought out, not disrespectful, and attempting to fill in a gap that many Christian teachers/pastors have been afraid to address. There have been some who have rejected the use of “lawful” but I think Mark answers this by appealing to 1 Corinthians 6:12 which says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.”
In closing I found the book to be a quick read although there were points that I struggled to get through (part 3 specifically). If you do read it I would recommend having time to think through each chapter because it does get heavy and I found myself needing time to digest what I had just read. I will say that I vehemently disagree with Pastor Mark’s view of women in ministry and that issue does come up a couple of times in the book. I mentioned some of the confusion I had with who was writing but that was a minor issue in the long run. I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars. I disagree with Pastor Mark and Grace on a lot but I can appreciate the fact they are at least attempting to address a difficult subject!