I picked up my library's copy of Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Pastor Mark and Grace Driscoll (Thomas Nelson) with real interest. There has been no end of controversy about Mark Driscoll, this marriage book, and Mars Hill Church in Seattle. There are people who loved the book and love Mark Driscoll and there are those who hate both. During the media tour for the book, I was very impressed with the way Pastor Mark and Grace came across. There was no Joel Osteen sticky smile, no Bible pounding, no fancy words. There was just clear conviction, humility, willingness to admit past sins of their own, and faithfulness to Scripture. Pastor Mark and Grace were real and approachable and had a sense of humor. I was intrigued. This coupled with hearing personal reports from a friend who attends Driscoll's church and has the highest respect for him and Grace gave me a real desire to read this book.
The number one thing that I would say about Real Marriage is that it clearly reveals a pastor's heart. While many books address marriage from a psychological or self-help perspective (and those are helpful in other ways), this is a book of Christian discipleship in marriage. While reading this book, I frequently felt as if I was reading a letter from a contemporary Paul, answering the confusing questions that arise, challenging me and other married people to follow God and grow in faith and in relationship with our spouses.
Feminists will probably dislike portions of this book, such as the authors' view that the general place for the mother is in the home (although exceptions are allowable and it is ultimately up to the couple to decide). The Driscolls definitely view the husband as the head of the home, but the way in which they articulate this view was very helpful for me as a person who has always struggled with this Biblical teaching (I have seen it abused many, many times). The Driscolls write: "This is what the Bible means when it says that a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. It means that he lovingly, humbly, and sacrificially leads by being a blessing and taking responsibility not only for himself but also for others--beginning with his wife." They go on to say, "Men are like trucks--they drive smoother and straighter with a load." When the husband's headship is described that way, what women wouldn't love it? How many men have we known who either didn't want to grow up or wanted to flex their muscle, intimidating everyone around them? The Driscolls show a middle way where a man is strong, but that strength is used on behalf of others. The strength is not a right, but a responsibility. Later in the book, the Driscolls condemn spousal abuse in the strongest possible terms. They tell women that they must leave if they are being abused and they condemn spiritual leaders who make women feel guilty about leaving.
The Driscolls' emphasis for wives is that they show respect to their husbands. I know they are right. All too often, I see wives and husbands speak disdainfully about each other either when together or behind each other's back. I think almost nothing is more destructive to a marriage. I know that there were times when Christopher and I were serving in ministry together when I would say something critical to him in front of our secretary. I regret those moments as I know that they were not honoring or respectful. If something needed to be addressed between us, it could have been done privately. In teaching about respect, the Driscolls speak strongly against two sinful extremes: "the silent, compliant wife [and] the loud, contentious wife." Instead, wives are encouraged to disagree with their husbands but to be respectful in the way in which they speak to them.
The biggest areas of controversy in this book are related to the frank discussions of sex in marriage which are included. Mark Driscoll is writing, however, out of a pastor's heart. The discussions of sex, while frank, are not intended to titillate but rather to address real questions that have been asked of him as a pastor again and again. The central idea of this section is that sex in marriage is not to be treated as "god" or "gross," but, rather as "good," created by God. One of the most powerful chapters is called "The Porn Path" and clearly addresses the pervasiveness of pornography in our culture and the harm that it causes. I particularly appreciated Pastor Driscoll's emphasis on the harm done to the men and women who are involved in making porn. He seeks to bring us to empathy for these broken people and he shows that pornography is not victimless. (If we truly understand the back story of these broken people's lives, how can we view porn with impunity and re-abuse them all over again?) Pastor Mark also outlines a path back to God for those who have become addicted to pornography. I was so grateful that Pastor Mark and Grace were willing to take the risk of talking about this sin. People in the pew are addicted to pornography and they need to hear the truth about it.
The most controversial and talked-about chapter of the book is titled, "Can We----?" This book addresses specific practices related to sex about which the Driscolls have frequently gotten questions from people. It is very frank and from the pastoral perspective asks three questions: Is it lawful (in our country and Biblically)? Is it helpful (within marriage)? Is it enslaving? This is based on I Corinthians 6:12, "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." The Driscolls do not go into their own sexual practices and also remind people that none of the practices which are lawful and potentially helpful are mandatory (other than that a married couple should normally be having regular intercourse). They emphasize that both spouses must be comfortable with the sexual practices in their relationship. I can see why this chapter might be controversial simply because it talks more frankly about sex than we are used to hearing Christians do. However, Biblically speaking, I felt that most (if not all) of the counsel was wise, helpful, carefully addressed, and dealt with Scripture in relation to whatever practice was being discussed. It must be remembered that this is a book for married people, as well, not a book for dating couples. Providing some pastoral guidelines for sexual practices within marriage is a very helpful tool for married couples. The method of thinking through each sexual practice can also teach, providing a process for couples to learn to discern for themselves if they are following God's Word or not. Although frank talk of sex may make some people uncomfortable, I found nothing here which contradicted Scripture.
One of the greatest blessings of this book has been the witness of the Driscolls in the secular media. They have been able to talk with media people in a sane and rational way, while still upholding Scripture. They have been respectful and humble. I wish them well as they continue this witness in a culture that is so very like the city of Corinth in Biblical times.
This is not the best book ever written on marriage, but it is a solid resource worthy of reading and studying. There were a few points where I may have articulated a view a bit differently. There were a few points where I might outright disagree. However, overall it was a book with a lot to offer in growing a marriage into maturity.
Recommended. 4 stars out of 5.