Alex Stroshine's Reviews > Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together

Real Marriage by Mark Driscoll
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Mar 17, 2012

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bookshelves: christian-living
Read from March 17 to 29, 2012

I will confess right away that Mark Driscoll is not one of my favourite pastors and that often clouds my reading of his books. There are parts of his theology that I disagree with. As well, his views on masculinity and complementarianism are also sources of friction between my beliefs and his. While I applaud Driscoll for affirming the Christian man who isn’t as “manly” as the truck-driving, gun-toting, UFC-watching dude, I still think much of Mark’s attitudes on exemplary masculinity are closer to that of John Eldredge, which made me very apprehensive about reading this book (see videos of Driscoll on YouTube for proof).

Having said that, besides the minor theological and sociological differences we have, I am grateful for Driscoll’s ministry, especially his gift of bringing young men into the Church into relationship with Christ, particularly in an un-churched region such as the Pacific Northwest. That is something that Driscoll’s theological opponents and detractors must recognize. There is a lot to like about this book and so what is reflected in this review is mostly the quibbles I have about it rather than a consistent affirmation of all the good portions of this book.

Another thing to keep in mind is that I am neither married nor have I ever been in a relationship. As such, this whole review is based upon the analysis of a young man who is single. This makes it difficult to critique the book as I am obviously not privy to the inner workings of romantic love or marriage. I have read someone criticize this book because it does not offer enough help to singles, both men and women, but I think that there are in fact helpful tips to take away. Besides that, the book itself is called Real MARRIAGE, not Real SINGLENESS, so while it might be helpful for the authors to offer a bit more advice to single people, they shouldn’t be faulted for not doing so in a book designed to discuss marriage.

It takes a great deal of humility to open up your love life and marriage to an audience comprised of strangers. Particularly helpful in this book is the fact that both Mark and Grace never consistently kept their faith from cradle to the present day (Mark was a convert and Grace drifted away from her faith in high school). To a new Christian who comes into relationship with Christ at say, 26, the Driscoll’s experience may hold some parallels to their own life. Chapter 1 is very autobiographical as Mark and Driscoll reveal their journey in love and faith. This takes courage to do.

Many of the Driscoll’s methods for maintaining a healthy relationship are good. In chapter 2 the Driscolls lay out the acronym FRIENDS (fruitful, reciprocal, intimate, enjoyable, needed, devoted, sanctifying). All of these points are elucidated in the book, but they are helpful and the Driscolls offer some everyday tips in how these may be acted out in a marriage. The Driscolls complain that there are not very many good books on friendship within marriage. This might well be true, but one then wonders why C.S. Lewis' "The Four Loves" is only quoted once throughout the entire book!

The third chapter is called “Men And Marriage” and is written by Mark specifically for men. He writes that he’s going to take a tougher tone than normal because he is talking directly to men. Much of Mark’s advice is common sense (don’t abuse your wife) but Mark also discusses the importance of choosing a good church. Lamenting the fact that there are fewer men in church, Mark hypothesizes that it would be best if the husband chose the church the family attends. I believe this should be a mutual decision; if a husband feels as if he is flourishing in a church but his wife receives no spiritual growth from it, then perhaps a change is needed. The same can be said for the opposite situation (the wife grows, the husband flounders). A church should serve both the needs and wellbeing of the husband and wife, and a quality of the children’s ministry should be taken into account as well. What is important is that the family, including the husband, belongs to a vibrant church-based community. As well, on pages 60-62, Mark tells readers that it is crucial that a couple agree on what the Bible says and on theological matters. This is good advice because one’s view on theology can shape their image of God. In addition, children will no doubt ask important questions about faith and it is important that both the father and mother have the answers to those questions. Lastly, in an age where many people dismiss religion and theology as unnecessary, a couple prayerfully, attentively and intellectuality studying Scripture to forge a bond of shared beliefs would be an enriching experience that would make the couple more theologically literate. What do you think about the Sacraments? What do you think about the Virgin birth? Is the Creation story literal history or a metaphor or symbolic story?

Grace Driscoll wrote the fourth chapter, “The Respectful Wife”, and there are some contentions that I have with it. Grace does well to carefully explain to her female readers (which the chapter is predominately written for) how they can best honour their husbands in their marriage by loving them, offering encouragement and respect, and submitting to them. On pg. 81, Grace writes, “Everything, for a man, is viewed as respect and disrespect. For a woman, everything is seen as loving or unloving”. This is an incredibly broad generalization that I would dispute. On the same page and carrying on to page 82, Grace rightfully writes that “The culture’s lie is that a woman’s worth decreases when she submits to her husband. The truth of the Bible is that a woman’s value does not increase or decrease if she submits, because her value comes from being created in God’s image”. This is an excellent point and one of the most valuable lessons from this chapter. Society has taught women that there value comes in their education or, most certainly, in their looks, but this is not where their value derives from. Women and men both have incredible worth because they were created in God’s image.

“Taking Out The Trash”, the fifth chapter, is a useful and practical section of the book that helps couples to be open, honest and accountable to one another. I think this is a helpful chapter and I have little problem with it.

Chapter 6 is entitled “Sex: God, Gross or Gift?”. The Driscolls highlight how sex can be warped by many into an object of worship while many moralistic, “prudish” people often twist it into something vulgar. One quibble in this chapter is found on pg. 108 where it is stated “First, a guy needs to grow up by moving out of his parent’s house, paying his own bills, worshipping his God, and taking care of himself”. I think it is important that young men grow into responsible and mature adults, but Mark’s constant declaration found throughout his sermons that young men should move out of their parent’s home early is not a Biblical command but one that Mark favours. After all, in Genesis 2: 24 it says “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This is important because of how often the Driscoll’s rely on the Genesis account to describe the ideal marriage. Genesis 2:24 does not state that a man has to leave his house early on in his life. For example, Abraham did not leave Terah’s household at an early age. As Rob Bell lays out in Sex God (2007), a young man would build an extension ONTO his family’s home where he and his newly wedded bride would live near to the husband’s family. As well, considering the current state of affairs in certain cities, such as Seattle itself, the Driscoll’s preaching base, the cost of living is expensive and it may not be viable to many of the young men, particularly those without a good job, to move out of their parent’s residence in their late teens or early twenties until they are a bit more established. This is not a defence of those who stay with their parents well into their adult life, but I think Mark has pushed back too far in his insistence that young men move out of the home early. On the following page the Driscolls claim that “your standard of beauty is your spouse. Of all the principles we have shared with people around the world regarding sex, this is perhaps the one we get the strongest positive response to” (pg. 109). I can understand why this is a desirable teaching, but the cynical (and single) part of me just thinks this is plain untrue. The Driscolls teach that whatever your spouse is, that is the kind of person you are to find most attractive; if skinny, then skinny, if dark-skinned, then dark-skinned, if sixty, then sixty. Particularly interesting in this part is the fact that all their references to beauty refer to physical characteristics, which ignores the (politically-correct) aspect of beauty referred to as “inner beauty” – the empathy, the grace, the joy in your spouse. We are both physical beings as well as emotional beings and to focus so much on physical looks ignores the fact that many spouses would probably readily admit that at age sixty, with an expanded waistline and graying hair they are not the physically beautiful people they were in their twenties, but they would also know that they find their spouses attractive for the way they respond to their emotional needs. At age sixty, is it really honestly, genuinely true that your spouse’s physical beauty is more attractive or appealing to you than the latest Hollywood leading man or starlet?

The following two chapters are both good. Chapter 7 is entitled “Disgrace And Grace” and Grace Driscoll writes this section of the book, recounting her own struggles with sexual abuse. This was surely a painful experience for Grace and it is commendable that she was willing to write of her experience so as to help women in similar situations or scenarios. Grace offers ways for women to walk through their abuse in order to find healing and redemption through an intimacy with Jesus. “The Porn Path” follows, where the Driscolls reveal the disturbing and saddening statistics about pornography and the sin and affliction that result from porn addiction.

The ninth chapter is called “Selfish Lovers And Servant Lovers” and there is a rather peculiar section in this chapter. On pg. 163, Mark writes “I (Mark) have never been clinically diagnosed, but it seems obvious that I’ve had bouts of depression”. On the following page, Mark writes that “there are many causes for depression, so if you think you may be depressed, the first thing you should consider is a trip to your doctor. I did not seek professional help, and my hope is that if you’re depressed often, you don’t try to solve it yourself”. He then ignores his own advice. Mark complains that all of the resources dealing with marriage and sex in a Christian context were “unfair”. Mark claims that the solution to his depression was to have more sex with his wife. The Driscolls stress the fact that spouses need to be self-giving to their husbands or wives, such as when one of them does not feel like they are in the mood for sex but the other wants to have sex. The Driscolls write that the spouse that is not interested should still have sex basically because they are to put their spouse’s needs ahead of themselves. Paradoxically, one wonders why the spouse who really wants sex does not put their spouse’s desire NOT to have sex over their own desire for intercourse.

“Can We _____?” is the tenth and most controversial chapter as the Driscolls go to Scripture to answer whether or not certain sex acts are appropriate or lawful, both Biblically and legally. I have no doubt that many Christian couples will find help in this chapter in that it answers some controversial questions, although the Driscolls are careful to state throughout that these practices should only take place if both spouse’s feel comfortable in doing them. But again, as a single, unmarried man, this chapter has little relevance to me currently. As well, some readers will find this chapter to be too graphic for their liking...Puritan sensibilities will be offended!

The last chapter is called “Reverse-Engineering Your Life And Marriage”, which is, for the first half, autobiographical. The second half is a format of helpful tips to help transform a couple’s relationship that the Driscolls think would be beneficial. I think that this is a very awkward way to end a book because the last pages are a series of questions couples ask about themselves and I think it would have been better to include this chapter as an appendix.

There are problems in this book. Although I have not read it (yet – it is next on my list), I think that “The Meaning of Marriage” by Tim and Kathy Keller is probably a better resource for married couples. There is concern that the Driscolls manipulate Scripture to suit their purposes on several occasions, such as constantly referring back to the Songs of Solomon. Having said that, I think that the Driscolls genuinely do try to lay out a Biblical framework for marriage and I think a Biblical framework for marriage is the best form to have, especially in an age when marriage is taking a beating in mainstream society, although even within Biblical visions of marriage there are differing opinions (e.g. complimentarianism vs. egalitarianism). I would tepidly recommend this book but I would urge readers to discretion and discussion with other Christians as to the contents of this book.

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