In the Evangelical world, you would be hard-pressed to find a figure more polarizing than Mark Driscoll (except for maybe Rob Bell. Those crazy, Mars Hill Pastors!). Those of a more moderate or progressive bent, find Driscoll’s theology too narrow, judgmental and misogynistic; Many conservatives stand with Driscoll in his theological commitments, but find his bombastic style, insensitivity and general jerkiness, off-putting.
Personally, I have some fundamental disagreements with Driscoll and concerns with his approach. Chief among these is my commitment to Biblical Egalitarianism and I find some of his comments are damaging to women, based in antiquated gender stereotypes (generally post-industrial, pre-feminist stereotypes), and arrogant. And so when Thomas Nelson, was offering his book free in exchange for reviews, I opted in just to see where the man (and wife) go amiss in their discussion of marriage; however, I found that while I disagree with the Driscolls in important ways, much of what they had to say here, was thoughtful, balanced and helpful. So read on Driscoll fans, I promise not to smear his (ahem) good name, but nor will I let him off easy!
Real Marriage is divided into three parts. In Part 1, the Driscolls address what makes a good marriage, discussing the roles of both husband and wife, their mutual responsibility to one another and ways to nurture their relationship. In Part II, they turn their attention to sex/sexuality (this is the biggest section of the book). Part 3 of the book consists of a single chapter, addressing how to ‘reverse engineer your marriage’ which involves casting a vision for the type of marriage you want to end up with and making a plan to get there. Part 3, despite it’s brevity is quite good. Parts 1 and 2 are generally pretty good with some issues. As an outline for this review, I will explore the Good, the Bad & the Ugly (with apologies to Clint Eastwood). On to my fair and balanced review (Fox newsworthy):
For the most part, I liked this book and found myself liking Mark and Grace Driscoll a little more as I read. Mark and Grace shares vulnerablely about their relational and sexual past, their marital struggles and offers advice they personally found helpful in their own marriage together. I was pleasantly surprised that their section on marriage has a chapter which underscores mutuality (showing how a good marriage starts with a good friendship). They also have good things to say about the gift of sexuality and do not pull punches in addressing sinfulness (i.e. abuse, pornography, selfishness). Things are said carefully here; I doubt that Driscoll will feel the need to recant or apologize for anything written here (as he has humbly done on occasion when he’s shot his mouth off). Perhaps the addition of his wife, Grace, has made him more gracious in his presentation! The Driscolls dispense good advice about cultivating intimacy.
Also, while I hedge and differentiate my position from Driscoll, I respect his commitment to being Biblical in his approach. This is a commitment I share with the Driscolls and actually agree with them on good many things, though not without reservations and concerns.I am done talking about the good things. On to the bad!
Beyond my fundamental disagreement with the Driscolls the thing that is done badly in this book is exegesis. Mark Driscoll has a Master’s degree in exegetical theology and should be much better at this, but he’s not (and yes I am singling out Mark on this one). This book is arranged topically and so doesn’t explore any one text in-depth. Often Driscoll proof texts and occasionally just misuses passages. In the chapter entitled, “Can We ______?” Driscoll uses Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:12 as a taxonomy to apply to sexual questions (p.192): “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” From this, Driscoll proposes three questions: 1)Is it permissible? 2) Is it helpful? 3) Is it enslaving? (192).
I agree that this can be a useful taxonomy in assessing particular issues, but Driscoll’s employment of it fails to account for the fact that Paul, in saying “All things are lawful for me” is quoting and rhetorically dismantling a Corinthian slogan. Someone with a master’s degree in Exegetical theology, ought to take more care here. Elsewhere he handles scripture better, such as his explication of the Song of Songs, but this book is really inconsistent in regards to the Bible.
Take for instance how he handles ‘submission.’ Driscoll argues that it is the role of the husband to provide leadership to the household (and the church), it is the role of women to submit. They do balance this by addressing the limits of submission (women should not submit to abuse, or to commit a sin), but this is generally what they argue, for all cases regardless of personality, temperament and gifting of each spouse. The basis of their case comes from their reading of the Biblical household codes, particularly the one that we read of in Ephesians 5:21-33. Wives are told to submit (vs. 22) because the husbands are their head as Christ is the head of the church; Thus women submit, men lead.
But this is a skewed picture of this passage. The section on women submitting (5:22-24) is bracketed by two verses which the Driscolls quote but fail to adequately expound. 5:21 says “Submit yourself to one another.” This sets this whole passage in the context of mutual submission (not just wives to husbands). In fact the word used for submit in this passage (ὑποτασσόμενοι), is said here, but not in verse 22, when Paul tells wives to submit. This reads literally “Submit yourselves one to another, wives to your husbands…” The context is mutual submission, not just wives to husbands.
The second verse they fail to properly expound is verse 25: “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” They quote this and talk about the husband’s loving leadership, but not about what it means to love like the Jesus who laid his life down. The Driscolls and I can disagree on egalitarian/complementarian concerns, but they need to trumpet the mutuality and shared submission more than they do here.
Finally, there is the ugly side of this book. The Driscoll’s spend a great deal of their section on sex, talking about sexual responsibility and what can couples do sexually. They give the green light to just about everything from anal sex, cyber-sex, mutual masturbation, roleplaying, etc. Pretty much their modus operandi is if the Bible doesn’t forbid it, and it doesn’t involve anyone else but husband and wife, go for it (yes, they also ask if it is helpful or enslaving). They did not, here say women or men had to perform certain sexual acts they feel uncomfortable with, but they do imply that within the context of marriage, you should be open to experimentation.
While I agree that sexuality is a gift to be celebrated within the context of marriage, and there is some freedom in how it can be expressed, I think the level of detail here is unnecessary and unhelpful. What you can do sexually in marriage is the wrong question if you ask me. I like the title of one of Marva Dawn’s books, Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy. I think the Driscoll’s fetish with what you can or can’t do sexually emphasizes technique, sometimes at the expense of intimacy. Healthy Christian sexuality is about mutually sharing, more than about experimentation.