Monday, January 2, 2012

"Real Marriage": A Book Review

photo provided by Book Sneeze
I was recently given a free e-book copy of Mark and Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together through Book Sneeze, a blogger review program by Thomas Nelson Publishers, which allows positive and negative reviews based on the opinion of the reviewer.  This book will be available for purchase tomorrow.

I was excited about reading this book as I appreciate Mark Driscoll's reformed theological views and straightforward approach to preaching. For those not familiar with Mark Driscoll, he is the preaching pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. He began this church at the age of 25 in his living room. It is now a multi-campus mega church. Mars Hill strives to reach the postmodern world through being culturally relevant, though not at the expense of the gospel. Driscoll has been quite controversial in the past in regards to language and his straightforward talk about sex, pornography, masturbation, and other subjects rarely talked about in the church.

In Real Marriage the Driscolls share with great vulnerability their past marital struggles. I enjoyed learning more about their life experiences and how God has used them to begin one of the largest evangelical churches in our country. The book is easy to read and I finished it in about three days due to a pain flare that kept me largely in bed. However, I would give the book a 2 out of 5 stars.

Despite mention of  "friendship" and "life together" in the title, the book is largely (at least 50 percent) about sex. Driscoll speaks quite graphically at times about sex, answering the question "Can we do ____?", and therefore I would not recommend this book to singles, even those preparing for marriage. Reading material so heavily focused on sex prior to marriage may lead to temptation and desires which should only be filled in marriage, according to the Bible.

Ironically, the Driscolls seem to have a very upper-middle class idealistic view of marriage and much of their advice is not realistic in the "real world". Suggestions such as daily going to bed at the same time as your spouse (so you can have free and frequent sex), having weekly date nights, and taking a quarterly romantic get-away seem a bit ridiculous when the majority of the world lives on less than a dollar a day. My husband largely works second-shift so we often cannot go to bed at the same time and many men work two jobs to keep food on the table. Are these things really necessary for a marriage to be good?

Driscoll admits that when he married he "tended toward sex as god". After reading this book it appears that he still does. He speaks of sex in regard to "needs" on several occasions and even has his wife believing that he has physical needs. This is a lie that the world wants us believe - that men (or women) have physical needs for sex. Needs are things you cannot live without - food, water, shelter, clothing, in some climates. Sex is not a need. Driscoll admittedly believes that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but what about the woman God never gives a spouse who has sexual needs? God tells us that He will supply all of our needs in Christ Jesus (Phillipians 4:19). How can He supply a single person's need for sex when His plan doesn't involve a spouse and sex outside marriage is wrong? What about Jesus? He was fully human. I guess he had "needs" too then, Pastor Driscoll?

As a couple who has had to abstain from intercourse far more than Driscoll could apparently stand, sex is not the primary purpose for marriage. God instituted marriage to display His covenant between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:31-32). The Driscolls mention this, but the book makes me believe that God invented marriage for our enjoyment through sex. The reality of marriage is that it is not easy. There will be days filled with sorrow and hardship. That's why we have to focus on the primary purpose for marriage. John Piper said it best in his book, This Momentary Marriage:
"If we make secondary things primary, we will be embittered at the sorrows we must face. But if we set our face to make of marriage mainly what God designed it to be, no sorrows and no calamities can stand in our way. Every one of them will be, not an obstacle to success, but a way to succeed. The beauty of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church shines brightest when nothing but Christ can sustain it."
Driscoll mentions that sex may have to be avoided during "difficult seasons" such as the 6 weeks after childbirth or if one is suffering from an injury or illness, but what Pastor Driscoll doesn't understand is that it may not just be a season for some marriages. It may be the entire marriage. I know husbands who say they follow Christ and want to leave because their wives can't have sex due to pudendal neuralgia and chronic pelvic pain. If those husbands read Real Marriage, I believe they will feel their actions are justified as they are missing out on "God's design" of free and frequent sex. I am disappointed because Driscoll had the opportunity drive marriages full of sinful people to the cross, but instead he made secondary things primary.

Mark Driscoll continues to remain Biblically solid in his views of the roles of man/woman and the marriage covenant. There are some good points in this book, but they are clouded by the the extreme focus of sex in Real Marriage.  In his attempt to cover territory that other Christian books avoid, Driscoll did not strive to be set apart from this world (Romans 12:2). With people suffering, dying, and going to hell, having an amazing sex life is really of very little importance. You can't take sex with you to heaven, Pastor Driscoll. Let's keep the primary things primary.


  1. I see the book as following its title-it says it is going to talk about sex and so it does. It doesn't claim to talk about situations where sex is not possible, although I think its mentioned slightly as in no matter what, sexual sin is not ok. He has done various sermons on his take on couples who are not able to be intimate in a sexual way and has always been more than supportive to those who are not able to have relaions in that manner of speaking. Please don't give up on him yet, he is doing the best he can-and certainly is doing a great deal more to further the kingdom than I ever could.Check out his sermons on intimacy and the like on pastormarktv, or mars hill church, or itunes and then you might get a broader picture of what he preaches. Your right, we can't always afford to do date night and go to bed together, I think the point is to make "alone" time for yourselves and that is by whatever means possible. Take care, God bless.

  2. I know exactly how you feel on this issue Kari. I've read dozens of books on marriage that refer to the "necessity" of frequent sex as The Glue that holds your marriage together. I've never read one that did not place extremely heavy emphasis on this. Even every women's conference (for pastor's wives) I've attended has listed "frequent, good sex" as one of the most critical things to a successful ministry. As a fellow chronic pain sufferer, I understand the feeling of hopelessnes, that turns to bitterness, that turns to anger toward books that NEVER take into account that sex might be extremely painful or ever impossible throughout an entire marriage. To be fair, the average person in their audience does not have that issue. Most authors or speakers never have to think about the reality that faces some of us. They usually encounter simply the wife who doesn't care for sex, or the husband who wishes his wife was more available or exciting. I also think these authors are correct that sex IS a God-given, glorious way to bond a husband and wife. It surely is. But when God makes it impossible, it is not a death-sentence to marriage. Every time I put down a marriage book I am discouraged. Every time. I walk away with the impression that according to this author my marriage and ministry are doomed to fail, my husband will irrevocably be in lustful sin, and that it will be my fault since my equipment to meet his Need isn't functional. Its infuriating. I do think sex is important - very important - to marriage. But it should not be THE thing we focus on. I think married couples facing chronic pain or illness that prevents intercourse ought to be strongly encouraged to meet each others physical and sexual desires in ways other than intercourse. The glue that holds marriage together is INTIMACY and that can be met in other, satisfactory ways, by the GRACE of God. God may be working in your husband's or wife's life to sanctify him/her by the removal of intercourse from your married life. He has a reason for the trial, and we should not be told to throw in the towel. I'm right there with you Kari.

  3. Thanks Lauren for your input and support. I would only say that Jesus is the glue that holds marriage together not intimacy. Even if intimacy or even friendship is not possible (such as husband/wife is in an accident that leaves them unable to communicate or move or arms/legs, etc) that marriage can survive by the grace of God as a picture of Christ faithfully loving/serving His church. Marriage is really more about Christ than it is about us.