“One of the most talked-about Christian marriage books in years …. Pastor Mark Driscoll is set to once again send shock waves throughout the evangelical world, confronting head-on and in broad daylight subjects that most would dare only explore behind closed doors—if then!
It’s strong language, and certainly unsurprising when one considerst that Mark Dirscoll is one of the most controversial pastors around these days. But the press release isn’t just strong, it’s also all hype. The facts are ather different. I have my concerns about Driscoll, as I’ve said here, and here. But, to my surprise, I found this book rather straightforward, honest, and helpful. It’s not that I assent to all that the Driscolls say in the book, but I rather thought much of it is worthy of appreciation. In fact to my pleasent surprise Mark seems less like shock jock sex therapist in this book, and more like a wise friend counseling others.
The subtitle of the book identifies the simple way in wich the book is broken down. In three parts Mark and his wife Grace address Marriage, sex, and life together. Their goal is not to shock us, though some will be shocked and part two presents the most controversial subjects (see chapter 10). Rather they state their goal as something much more simple, even mundane:
Because we are a pastor and his wife, we really do want this book to be used of God to help people. It’s the kind of book we wished we could have read earlier in our marriage, and wish we could have given to those we served in ministry. So we wrote what we hope is a book that is biblically faithful, emotionally hopeful, practically helpful, sociologically viable, and personally vulnerable. (xi)
The book is not a sex manual, it’s not an assault on prudish conservativism (though Mark takes plenty of potshots at it), and it is not a guide to patriarchial dominance (though some will be undoubtedly offended by its complimentarian position). Chapter two makes clear that this is a counseling book. In what is easily the most beautiful chapter in the book the authors urge husbands and wives to build their friendship with each other. “Marriage is about friendship,” they write. “All the talk about spending time and doing life together, making memories, being a good listener, growing old and taking care of each other, being honest, having the long view of things, repenting and forgiving can be summed up in one word – friendship” (23). The acrostic-style development of the rest of the chapter is a bit cheesy (F-R-I-E-N-D-S) but the points are nonetheless helpful.
The counseling continues in chapters dealing with subjects like repentance and forgiveness in marriage, dealing with sexual abuse, pornography, and the infamous “Can We ____?” chapter. The book as a whole is useful on many fronts because of this tone. I know I will, in the future, assign chapters in counseling and refer, myself, to various parts of the book for help. Even the “Can We ___?” chapter aims to give godly advice from experienced and loving friends. In the chapter the Driscolls address such things as ”masturbation,” “oral sex,” “anal sex,” “role-playing,” and “sex toys.” They don’t say that one should necessarily participate in any of these things, but they leave the matter open to couples to decide for themselves (giving them guidelines to help inform their decision making). I won’t agree with all that Mark and Grace say there but, in all fairness, these are the questions they are getting asked and they seek to do their best at answering them. It’s the sort of thing any godly friends would do. Sometimes the advice given by well-meaning couples can be right and helpful and other times it can be questionable. But that hardly makes the book controversial, and it hardly warrants all they hype.
The more controversial aspects of the book will be chapters 3 and 4 where the authors expound their views on gender roles in marriage. Those who do not agree with Mark’s conservative complimentarianism will, no doubt, be put out by his view of male headship in the home and female submission. I confess I am very close to Mark on these views, and while I think he tends to take them to extremes at times, in this book he is somewhat softer than he normally appears. His exegesis isn’t always very sound, and I might quibble with some of his experssions, but as a moderate complimentarian I can simply disagree with parts and move on. Overall the book, for me, was not so controversial. In fact in a lot of ways it was a rather commonplace discussion about sex…and that makes the book worthwhile.
Sex is hyped constantly in the world around us, and sadly the church falls prey to the belief that we have to hype sex-talks up too. But the rather ordinary nature, and the counselor’s heart that are present in Real Marriage make it a book much better than its press release said it was, and a book worth checking out.