Real Marriage

Earlier this month, Mark and Grace Driscoll released their latest book, Real Marriage – The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. Never one to shy away from controversy, Driscoll tackles issues such as friendship within marriage, complementarianism, and what is and what is not acceptable behavior for married Christians in the bedroom. The book has been met with great fanfare and harsh criticism from those inside and outside of his theological camp, so I naturally wanted to get my hands on a copy and review it.

Real Marriage is not a very “theologically heavy” treatment of marriage and sex. This stood out to me when I began reading it, because so much of what Driscoll does is deeply rooted in theology. When you can’t count on much, you can count on Mark to go heavy on doctrine, pound in the gospel, and bring about some great applications. In this book, he spends much more time on the applications and practical steps than the theological premises behind them.

It’s best to think of this book as a conference in a cover – which seems appropriate to do when the next step for Mark and Grace was to go on a conference tour discussing the subject matter of the book. And while Mars Hill Church (Driscoll’s multi-site church based in Seattle), and thousands of other churches are presenting Real Marriage as a sermon-series / church campaign, the book reads as the authors’ personal stories, tips, and pointers for others to learn from.

Summary

The book centers on a few specific topics, such as the importance of friendship between spouses, complementarianism, and, well, sex. The Driscoll’s share their experience as a ministry couple who were deeply committed, but weren’t communicating or having a very fulfilling marriage. They were relating to one another, but weren’t having a good time. That experience helped to open their eyes to the need of a strong friendship in marriage.

Ever the outspoken one, Mark writes a chapter to men challenging them to stop being “boys who shave,” and step into their God ordained role as providers, and heads of their family. Grace, in turn, pens a chapter on the role of the wife in marriage. These chapters are perhaps the best in the entire book, and reveal a deep-seated appreciation and honor towards the Word of God and His design for the family. While this should be the most hotly debated subject-matter in the book (by those who would hold to a more egalitarian / liberal persuasion), it is overwhelmed by it’s other lightening rod issue.

Sex. The Driscoll’s are for it – within marriage to be sure, but they’re definitely for it. The chapter that has garnered the most criticism and discussion thus far has been chapter 10, appropriately titled, “Can We _____?” In this chapter, the Driscoll’s take their stab at answering questions of appropriate bedroom behavior for married Christians, using the framework of 1 Corinthians 6:12. More on this below.

Defending the Driscoll’s

This book has received much more criticism than Mark Driscoll’s other books. Tim Challies (the Canadian Godfather of Reformed book reviews) posted three articles on chapter 10 alone. But, is the criticism justified?

Too Much Sex!
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that this book was released at almost the same time as Ed Young Jr.’s Sexperiment, but one of the outcries that’s been going around the blogosphere is that modern pastors (and somehow they just lump two very different pastors like Driscoll and Young) speak too much and too frankly about sex considering the brevity and discretion of the Biblical authors. The problem with this critique is that it fails to account for Driscoll’s other works (such as Vintage Jesus, Vintage Church, Death by Love, and Doctrine) – all of which are theologically rich and robust. To argue that Driscoll only preaches on (or writes about) sex is simply unfounded.

Drinking from a Toilet?
Another popular blogger has likened reading Real Marriage to drinking water from a toilet. This criticism is, at the very least, in poor taste. (Get it? In poor taste? Nevermind.) It is my opinion that this book can be a tremendous help to pastors and laity alike. I have no doubt that God will use it in powerful ways and bring help and healing and restoration of families to readers of this book. I have my own frustrations with the book, but this criticism is unwarranted.

Frustrations with the Book

While I understand (though disagree) with the criticisms above, I do have a few of my own – primarily, the question of Mark Driscoll’s growth (or seemingly lack thereof) in the book, and the grid used in chapter 10.

The Seeming Lack of Growth of Mark Driscoll
Throughout the book, we read of Grace’s journey, including the sexual sins in her past that have haunted their marriage, the corresponding secrets that she brought into their marriage, and the times that Christ has brought healing to her past and their marriage. As a pastor who has counseled church members who have similar past sins, and brought similar secrets to their marriage, this book is an excellent tool to place in their hands.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Mark.

His character, personality, and disposition to his wife seems extremely undeveloped. He tells stories of the day that she came home and he didn’t like her “mom” haircut, and of his growing frustration with their passionless marriage, but little seems to change in Mark. His development seems to be much more in line with Grace’s growth and the change in her disposition towards her husband.

I don’t know Mark and Grace. I have benefited greatly from his ministry and preaching. I wish this book presented more growth and development in his character. I believe that it exists, but it simply doesn’t come through in the book.

A Gospel-Less Grid
Many have undertaken the task of taking apart the grid that the Driscoll’s use to answer questions in their, “Can We _____?” chapter. 1 Corinthians 6:12 states, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” From this verse, the Driscoll’s draw three questions to help determine whether an activity is appropriate for a married couple.

Is it lawful? Is it helpful? Is it enslaving?

Noticeably missing from these questions is anything having to do with the state of the heart – which is something that I enjoy about Driscoll’s preaching and writing, so it’s all the more frustrating to not see any trace of it in the most discussed chapter!

The first question should be, “Why do you want to do that?”

Only after searching for our heart-motive behind desiring a particular act, and understanding the underlying reason, should we even begin to ask questions of legality and helpfulness. This question will give us the impetus to limit certain freedoms that may be available to us. This is where Christian maturity comes into play.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this book is good, but not great. It should have been great. Driscoll’s penchant for hitting theology hard and heavy while tackling controversial issues without fear should have resulted in a book that pastors can unswervingly recommend and share with others. Unfortunately, according to the bulk of reviews that I’ve read, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

In the preface, Mark Driscoll writes, “Although we seek to be faithful to the Bible, this book is not the Bible, and, like you, we are imperfect, so there will be mistakes. Take whatever gifts you find in this book, and feel free to leave the rest.” (xi)

That would be the best advice I could give as well. Read it for yourself. You will no doubt come across material that is surprising and/or shocking. But you’ll also discover several jewels of wisdom that will serve those who desire to follow God in their marriage.

Real Marriage – The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll

This book was provided at no charge to me by Thomas Nelson publishers as part of their BookSneeze program.

  8 comments for “Real Marriage

  1. 18 January 2012 at 8:55 am

    Thanks Dave that was a helpful review. I have not read it yet but some of my small group members are…guess I need to pick up a copy soon!

    I’m curious about your observations about the book not being heavy theological. Have you read Piper’s marriage book or Keller’s and how does Driscoll’s compare?

    • 18 January 2012 at 9:47 am

      Thanks!

      As to how this book compares to Keller’s or Piper’s, the honest reality is that it doesn’t. It really is more of a frank discussion than a theological work. I haven’t read Keller’s (yet), but everyone that I’ve talked to has raved about it.

      I can see Real Marriage being helpful in a small group context – it will certainly foster some discussion and broach some subjects that aren’t likely to be discussed otherwise. But I would want to balance it with something like Kostenberger’s God, Marriage, and Family or Piper’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

      I also have a list of books that I recommend for Biblical Marriage here.

  2. Louis Tullo
    18 January 2012 at 9:26 am

    Great review David. I concur with a lot of your opinions on the book. Right now, I’m actually reading “The Exemplary Husband” by Dr. Stuart Scott, which in my opinion is a far more gospel-grounded book (for men) on marriage. I’m excited to be writing my review of this soon. 🙂

    • 18 January 2012 at 9:49 am

      Awesome. I have that book, but have only read bits and pieces. I can’t wait to actually have the opportunity to sit down and dig into it.

  3. 18 January 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This book is next on my book list. Interested reading it to see what I can take from it.

    • 18 January 2012 at 2:17 pm

      Let me know what you think!

  4. 23 January 2012 at 8:44 pm

    I’ll echo the praises, David. You’ve done a great job on the review—very measured and helpful.

    • 23 January 2012 at 9:40 pm

      Thanks Aaron. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your blog for some time now.

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