Book Review – Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life Together

I have avoided writing this post since I finished the book a week ago.

The book itself is so controversial, I thought it’d be a breeze to review it and make a nice post for you lovely readers.

Well, I didn’t think that one through very well. The minute I put it down, I vowed I wouldn’t write about it. I’d pretend I’d never read it and no one had to know.

Only, it ate at me all week. I talked to A about it, and I talked to some close friends about it, but it doesn’t feel like enough. So now I’ll write about it (for you, of course).

First, let me explain for those of you who don’t know: the author of this book – Mark Driscoll – is a pretty controversial guy himself. The pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, he pretty much rocked America’s least churched major city to its core with his stick-to-the-gospel theology and very in-your-face attitude. And I think that’s cool.

But he’s also gotten a lot of flack for comments like this and this, and I think both of those quotes are quite offensive.

Now it’s time for full disclosure: the church A and I are involved in is part of the Acts 29 network, a Christian church planting network in which Pastor Mark has played a major role.

There is an enormous, thriving community of people who really, really love Pastor Mark. They read his blog, listen to his sermons, and go to his conferences. A and I are more casual observers. We mostly think his theology is sound, but his style can quickly cross over from confrontational-in-a-good way and funny to offensive. That, we do not like. We are both able to shake it off pretty easily, but not everyone can. Candidly, my heart aches for the “girly men” he always belittles (sometimes publicly).

Here’s the difference between a sermon and a book: no one is editing a sermon. Someone (several people) edit books. Apparently. This is my first beef with Real Marriage. It reads just like an unedited sermon, which means it’s conversational (good), but overall I think the style hurts the book. The viewpoint frequently switches from Mark to Grace (his wife), and the chapters don’t seem to flow from Point A to Point B, but rather meander from illustration to illustration until the authors have talked themselves out. The loose grammar in spots seals the deal: the book overall reads as disjointed.

Now let’s move to the content. One of the reasons conservative Christians so passionately dislike this book is because almost half of the bulk of the book is about S-E-X. Candid, and some would say, too graphic. There is an open and frank discussion of the Driscoll’s history together, which really puts the book in perspective. More on that later.

Most hated of all, there is a chapter called “Can We ___?” and it is exactly how you imagine it. Actually, this aspect of the book is the one I appreciated most. I fully believe Pastor Mark’s assessment that married couples he’s counseled can’t find anyone else to talk to about these issues within the context of a biblical marriage. I appreciate that he’s willing to face the tough questions they ask and provide a biblical answer. In this vein, I think the book accomplishes its goal to educate about sex within marriage very well.

Another point the Driscolls make in Real Marriage is how extraordinarily important friendship is in a healthy marriage. I fully agree. I thought the portion on treating your spouse as your best friend was well thought out and meaningful.

It’s the chapters on women and men, and their respective roles, that get me. On the surface, I share the Driscoll’s complementarian view on men and women, meaning I believe men and women were meant to have different but complimentary roles in marriage. Check the biblical evidence, y’all. What I do not think is ok is how Mark Driscoll (even as he insists he doesn’t) obviously counts men more important than women.

I can’t write out every minute detail, because I’m sure no one wants to read 100 pages of book review (this is long enough as it is – sorry!). But let me go over the high points.

The problematic interpretation of scripture.
I’m not a theologian, so I’m not going to say that the interpretations were wrong. In fact, I’m not sure wrong is the correct word. But I have a problem with the scriptures Mark & Grace Driscoll heavily lean on and the way they use them. I think Relevant magazine said it best in their review of the book:

“In his chapter to men, Mark establishes a model of maturity and biblical family that is formed less by the Scriptures than Leave It to Beaver. It’s a model of family structure totally foreign to the biblical world. In fact, the type of marriage the Driscolls describe in Real Marriage isn’t based on a single biblical couple. (They lean heavily on Song of Solomon. But assuming the author is Solomon as they do is problematic, since according to the Scriptures, he had more than 300 wives, which makes him sort of a polygamist.)

Grace’s interpretation of the Esther story is similarly cringe-inducing. She chastises Queen Vashti for publicly disrespecting her husband. But how did she do this? She refused him when he wanted her to do a strip-tease for him and all his drunk friends. That’s wrong? (However, the Driscolls make it clear elsewhere that they would encourage a woman like Vashti not to submit to such a sinful command.)”

As this blogger points out, Mark Driscoll has a tendency to project his own feelings onto everyone.
Early in the book, Mark and Grace share that Grace cheated on Mark when they were young (not yet married) and Mark confesses that the incident had changed his view on women…for a time, he says. But it is obvious to me that his view of women is still tainted. Because of this, Grace seems to be damaged goods, sexually unavailable, and they both write as if Mark is totally justified in anger, even in considering leaving her, and is a hero for not doing so.

The 50s model of the nuclear family is presented as the only way to live.
Yes, the wife staying at home with the kids while the husband makes the dough works for a lot of people. But it’s not necessarily biblical. The Proverbs 31 woman manages her home AND gets up at dawn to take on all kinds of odd jobs, Lydia from the New Testament sold purple cloth, and 1 Timothy 5:14 talks about women managing their homes, but does not forbid them to do other work in addition to that. I see absolutely zero biblical justification for Driscoll condemning families where the husband and wife both work, or where the wife works and husband stays home with the kids. It’s his opinion that these aren’t the best models of family, but it is not biblical.

Please do not hear me attacking the Driscolls. I think they are wonderful teachers, on most subjects. I admire their rawness in this book. I can even dig the way they take a firm stand on what they believe about the family structure. But what I cannot bear is the way they project their opinion of the ideal family onto all Christians. I cannot allow myself to go along with an interpretation of scripture that I feel convicted is misapplied at best and just wrong at worst. I am nervous for nonbelievers or new Christians who read this and drop everything to follow it.

I think because Driscoll is so firm in his opinions and interpretations of the scripture, it can be easy to read Real Marriage without examining what it is you truly believe. If this is going to be the case for you, I urge you not to read this book. But if you are interested in reading it, my advice would be to proceed with caution. Perhaps Driscoll said it best in the intro: glean from this book what wisdom you can find in it, but please remember to leave the rest.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review – Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life Together

  1. Joe says:

    The Driscolls only told 1/2 of the story. Marriage today is strictly a secular institution with religious and/or spiritual overtones. The state gives Pastor Driscoll the power to perform a marriage. In the bible, marriage was 100% a religious institution. The state grants divorces, not Pastor Driscoll even though the divorce may be 100% biblical. Therefore, real marriage should include a section on divorce, pre-nuptial agreements, community property laws, child custody, support payments, visitation rights, etc. The book is incomplete.

  2. Dang. I’ve never heard of this book, and obviously I’m not married, but this made me want to read it. I’m not offiliated with any denomination or church or whatnot anymore, but popular theologians and trends in religion are so interesting.

    • It’s worth a read if you’re interested. Driscoll is a really interesting person. The gender inequality issue might turn you off of him, but he has some great stuff to say on modern church, Jesus, the gospel, etc.

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