“Why I Endorsed Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll and What I Disagree With”

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Early this year Thomas Nelson released the book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll. The book immediately became a best seller as well as a topic of spirited conversation and debate. Some loved it and others hated it. Few, however, were neutral in their opinion, regardless of whether they had read the book. I was asked, along with my wife Charlotte, to read the book before publication and consider providing an endorsement. We read it and, after talking it over, agreed to give a “qualified” endorsement as long as none of the wording was changed. That request was honored and so the endorsement appears as follows:

“Real Marriage is brutally and sometimes painfully honest. Further, it is frank and direct in addressing a number of important marital issues. Sometimes you probably will feel uncomfortable. And, you may not agree with everything Grace and Mark Driscoll say. We didn’t. However, this is a book we will gladly use and recommend to others who care about healthy, biblical marriages. We believe both husbands and wives will be blessed by and benefit from its content. Grace and Mark are to be commended for writing a book that bares their souls and, more importantly, points to the redeeming power of the gospel in the sacred covenant called marriage.”

A few of my friends have asked me a couple of questions: 1) Why did you endorse the book knowing, or at least suspecting, it could be controversial? 2) Exactly what is it that you disagree with in the book? Those are fair and good questions and so let me respond to both.

First, why did we endorse the book? We did so because we believe it powerfully demonstrates the redeeming power of the gospel in healing broken and troubled marriages. Opening chapters such as “Friends with Benefits” (ch. 3), “Men and Marriage” (ch. 4) and “The Respectful Wife” (ch. 5) would be helpful and valuable to anyone seeking a biblical framework for their marriage The book is clear in its complementarian understanding of what the Bible teaches about gender roles, and it affirms that God ordained only heterosexual, monogamous sex within the covenant of marriage. Mark and Grace also are brutally honest about the baggage they brought into their marriage, but then testify to how God has brought wholeness, joy and blessing as they confessed and repented of sin, sought and extended forgiveness, and more faithfully embraced God’s role assignment for a husband and a wife. I strongly suspect thousands of couples will be helped and given hope for their own marriages, especially if they have walked a path similar to Mark or Grace.

We also thought the chapter on Sex as God’s gift (ch. 6) and the chapter on the dangers and destructive nature of pornography (ch. 8) were valuable and well done. I could go on but let me simply say that we found a great deal of good in the book and believed and still believe it will help many couples find fulfillment in their marriages and glorify God in the process.

Second, exactly what do you disagree with in the book? There are several things I can share here and I am glad to do so. I am also thankful that as I share where I disagree with my friend Mark, I know he will receive it from a brother who loves him, and that it will not harm or negatively impact our friendship one wit! This is how Christian brothers and sisters should relate to each other.

Mark’s “vision” of seeing sexual sin makes me very uncomfortable. I am not sure what to make of it, and it concerns me that he seems to have these revelations in an ongoing kind of way. I have never had such a vision first of all. I acknowledge that may say something about me. Further, I am not sure there is any real value in sharing things like this in a public venue, even if they are true. Some things are often best left unsaid. I believe that is the case here.

It is also the case, and I doubt anyone will be surprised here, that I am in disagreement with sections of the (in)famous chapter 10 entitled, “Can We ______?” Now to be honest and fair, this chapter overall has more good than bad. In fact I believe most of it is good. The documentation and research is solid. And, I appreciate Mark and Grace tackling tough issues. Someone needs to. As someone who has conducted hundreds of seminars on marriage and family in the past 20 years, I have been asked about almost all of the issues that the Driscoll’s address. In my research for my book God on Sex, a popular treatment of the Song of Solomon, these issues repeatedly came up. I chose to address them in a much different way than Mark and Grace, and in most instances did not address them at all. Again, someone needs to, and I appreciate Mark and Grace taking the risk even if I disagree with some of their conclusions.

Let me begin by saying I think their taxonomy is too narrow in answering the question, “Can We ______?” In addition to: 1) Is it lawful? 2) Is it permissible? 3) Is it enslaving?, I would add 4) Is it loving? 5) Is it glorifying to God with my body? 6) Will it bless and build up my mate? 7) Does it glorify God? Further, I believe natural theology is very helpful, especially when dealing with the issue that has caused the most controversy, the issue of anal sex (An issue that receives all of 2 ½ pages in a book of 249 pages). Taken as a whole, even if one does not think there is a chapter and verse that specifically addresses this issue (some would argue Romans 1:18ff does), the weight of the biblical witness would speak against engaging in this activity. Now, to be fair to the Driscoll’s they conclude their treatment of this issue with the following: “As a general rule, unless both the husband and wife want to attempt it and can do so without pain, shame, or harm, this should not be done. Unless both of you have a clear conscience about the matter, it is unwise to engage in this act” (p. 189, emp. mine).

Concerning other issues addressed in chapter 10, I am willing to grant more liberty and freedom for creativity within a heterosexual, monogamous marriage. My understanding of the Song of Solomon and Hebrews 13:4 are my guides at this point, as well as my expanded taxonomy noted above.

In conclusion this is certainly not a perfect book and Grace and Mark say this at the very beginning (p. xi). There is only one perfect book and we all know which one that is! However, Charlotte and I think Real Marriage is a book that will help many in spite of certain flaws. I was asked the other day in light of all the controversy surrounding the book would I endorse it again? The answer is, yes I would. I am already hearing from those who are being helped by the book as they pursue a God glorifying marriage. For that we should all give thanks, whether we are a fan of the book or not.

  20Comments

  1. Sean Rice   •  

    Thanks for the explanation, Mr. Akin. I wonder if Pastor Mark would edit the “Can We _____?” chapter in any future editions.

  2. Wesley Handy   •  

    Dr. Akin,

    Thank you for the helpful review. I was personally uncertain whether it was worth my time to read given the controversy, given that there are other books on the subject. You have helped me to make an informed decision.

    Second, not just to blow smoke, but this is at least the second time you have publicly endorsed Driscoll, that I’ve read or heard, the last at a conference on campus. I applaud your courage to speak given the opposition you faced then and may face again for these very words. Thank you for being an example of courage and of Christian congeniality.

    With much love and respect,

    Wes

  3. Deb   •  

    God is not giving anyone visions of a pornographic nature. Anybody who claims this is not fit for any position of leadership. Anybody who continues to skate around the issue as Akin continues to do is not fit for leadership. We need men and women willing to call out the lies of Satan. GOD DOES NOT GIVE ANYBODY VISIONS OF A PORNOGRAPHIC NATURE.

  4. Troy Nicholson   •  

    As an A29 planter and proud SEBTS grad, I am always encouraged to see you and Mark’s passion for Gospel-centrality in every aspect of life (including the bedroom). The fact is, and was well stated, someone better address the issue with boldness because our generation is grossly saturated with open sexual exploration/exploitation. Thanks again for taking the time to enter the arena of controversial dialogue.

  5. Keith   •  

    I wonder if I had a glass of water that contained 98% water and 2% poison if Dr. Aiken would still recommend I drink it. Probably not. The bad in this book far outweighs any benefit one might receive from it. There are plenty of other good resources addressing these issues out there — including Aiken’s own book. I’ll use those and not recommend them instead.

  6. Glen Putman   •  

    As a pastor for 38 years and a trained counselor, I want to say I am very disappointed in Mark’s book and the endorsement. Pastors are not trained to give the kind of extrabiblical advice which he has given. This “counsel” comes out of a dysfunctional background and an unsatisfied lust (not the Bible or professional counseling). According to James it is never satisfied. So the next generation will find themselves following this advice to be soon burnt-out. Truth mixed with error is a trap and it is deadly.

  7. Michael Pope   •  

    Deb, your statements about the authority of leadership concerning Dr. Akin and Mark Driscoll unwarranted. I do not believe Dr. Akin skipped around the issue, in fact, if I read it correctly, it stated that he disagreed with that principle and it concerned him. If you have an issue with the doctrine of Mark Driscoll, that should be taken up with him and not Dr. Akin. As a former student of the Seminary and in Dr. Akin’s class, I can tell you that there is not another more gracious, compassionate, God-fearing, man of integrity I have ever met. Please refrain from your attacks on a public forum and sign your full name with e-mail so you can engage in a private dialogue.

    Dr Akin, thank you for your service to King Jesus and I am honored to share in His mission alongside of you.

  8. caitlin   •  

    deb, your comment is absurd. Dr. Akin is hardly skirting around any tough issues and the way you are talking about both of these men makes it evident that you are hardly qualified to determine who is “fit for leadership.” I understand you may have concerns with the book, but that doesn’t mean you can judge someone’s character based off of one thing that makes you uncomfortable.

  9. Deb   •  

    Nobody can claim to be serving King Jesus who is too cowardly to stand up for the integrity of God. This isn’t about some obscure doctrine. You either stand with God or against Him. You stand clearly against Him when you will not defend Him against attacks against His nature.

  10. Matt Svoboda   •  

    Keith,

    With that type of idiotic logic you could never recommend a book in which you disagree with 2% of it?

    You might as well not read or recommend anyone!

  11. Alex Chiola   •  

    Ignore the trolling.

    For those of you less tech savvy people this means: ignore the people who just post comments to start flame wars.

    These people wish to throw out public insults with the hopes of getting under people’s skin. Notice also, their comments hold no weight of logic, discernment, or righteousness. But instead are so full of religious egotism, blinded by the log in their eye, that they must tell everyone else what they are doing wrong.

    So lets pleasantly look over these comments as though they are not there in the first place. They offer no real help, no real attempts at sanctification, and no accountability; since they hid behind their lack of full names and email – not to mention they apparently don’t read the Bible as a whole (See 1 Corinthians 5 for judging within the church and Matthew 18:15-20 for church discipline).

    I’m not saying you can’t disagree, but do it biblical. Don’t whine – your argument becomes invalid when you act like a dripping faucet. Instead, word your disagreement on the level and respect equal to that of Akin’s review. If you can’t, then don’t post. If you do post, it will be ignored…hopefully.

    -The End

  12. Tom   •  

    If Deb wants to talk about moralism being the center of the Christian message, then she’s right! Thank God it’s not the center…Jesus and His saving work is! Love (and Grace) covers a multitude of sins, which I might add is the main point of Real Marriage as I understand it. Thank you for honesty, boldness and humility Dr. Akin.

  13. Joey Tomazin   •  

    Dr. Akin,

    Thank you for the review of the Driscoll’s book. I appreciate your honesty and openness in addressing the difficult topics of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Biblical Marriage, Sexuality. In our culture it is difficult to discern how all of those elements are designed to glorify God. Your treatment of this work was very fair and even. Personally, I have a few concerns that some of Pastor Mark’s previous writings and statements are perhaps too controversial, and this book is no exception.

    As for your comment about their being only one perfect book, I agree completely. I love the Bible and believe it is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. Yet, there are still things within its pages that I have not yet grasped, understand, and with all honesty, struggle with. That isn’t to say that I do not accept those things in Scripture but rather that I refuse to believe I have it all in good order. But that is not a negative thing. I doubt anyone can with a clear conscience state that they understand the whole of Christian Scripture in lucid detail.

    Some have said that if there is any “poison” you should not recommend drinking it when referring to this endorsement. This analogy is deficient. The Bible itself is can be poison IF AND WHEN one does not interpret, apply, and live Scripture faithfully. How many cults have started from erred doctrine? How many lives are crippled by pharisaic legalism? How many people wonder in the gulf of uncertainty in life due to sins unconfessed and unrepented of?
    When we read the Scriptures and pursue the God who gave us those Scriptures, we are pushed on by God’s own grace and faithfulness. Knowing this, and that we are fallible and in need of much grace, it is imperative that we show grace towards others, especially to those we disagree with. You have done that once again in an exemplary fashion. You are consistently a peacemaker with your brethren and I thank you for your commitment to not only orthodox beliefs but also the right heart and right application of those beliefs.

    A proud SEBTS student,

    Joey

  14. Jason   •  

    Mr. Akin, Christ is Risen! Thanks for writing this.

    I find it amazing that people even write about whether or not Scripture allows for consensual anal sex between heterosexuals. I mean… come on. Really? Obviously the Bible never approaches that question in any semi-clear fashion. So anything we can write about the topic from a biblical perspective is pure conjecture. It is practically pointless except for the fact that so many Christians like to make up rules and say they are God’s rules, like the Pharisees loved to do, and then other Christians need to come along to shoot those rules down.

    Indeed, I find so much teaching about sex from Scripture to be pure conjecture at best and often deceit at worse. For instance, the Mosaic Law never prohibited or even punished sex before marriage despite that it very clearly prohibited sins ranging like adultery, sex during menstruation, incest, and bestiality. Some authors tell us that girls were killed for being non-virgins in the Old Testament. However, in Deuteronomy 22:20-21 the punishment is for misleading her husband about the state of her virginity, not for premarital sex. There were marriages involving non-virgins who were honest about their loss before the wedding night. Honest girls were never even punished under the Law at all for being non-virgins, much less killed for God’s sake! Ask any Rabbi.

    So no passage in the Old Testament ever punished or even prohibited premarital sex. However, our churches teach that premarital sex is “porneia” (sexual immorality). If God’s word has never called premarital sex “immoral” or punished it in any way, then how on earth have we come to conclude that it is a sin? The answer: by becoming like the Pharisees in our assumed rule making power, and by blinding ourselves to enormous amount of evidence to the contrary of our position.

    Many authors rely on 1 Cor 7 to say premarital sex is a sin, where Paul advises marriage to people who can’t control themselves sexually. However, they all skip over the fact that Paul said he was giving advice and not commands! Besides, the passage could just as easily imply that those who he was advising were indeed having sex (“can’t control themselves”), and he doesn’t condemn them as sinners or tell them to repent. He advises channeling the passion into marriage.

    Many authors also note the passion celebrated after the wedding in the Song of Songs, for instance. However, basically all evangelical authors do not even mention the fact that the couple enjoys “their” new bed and tons of passion more than a full chapter *before* their wedding. Isn’t that kind of an important fact if the topic is whether or not sex before marriage is a sin?

    Virginity is honored and holy in Scripture, and sex in marriage is also honored and praised. However, God has ever called sex before marriage a sin. He simply hasn’t. To teach that He has is to go beyond God’s Word, bzeyond Scripture, beyond the Prophets, and beyond the Apostles. We need to think long and hard, as churches that will be judged by what we teach, about why God has taken this approach to sex.

    Given the absence of any clear prohibitions against premarital sex, one essentially has argue that sex before marriage is a sin because God honors sex in marriage. That is a logical fallacy. God honors abstinence from alcohol by calling John the Baptist the greatest man, but God has always allowed alcohol consumption as well. He has never punished it in moderation, and even honored it at Cana and through the Eucharist. So honoring something does not mean the opposite is sin. Yet that faulty logic is essentially the only basis for the church’s modern teaching regarding premarital sex.

    In Christ,
    Jason

  15. Jason   •  

    P.S. – I just realize I called you Mr. Akin and you are a Dr. Forgive me please, Dr. Thank you.

  16. Keith   •  

    Matt…

    My point — with my “idiotic logic” and all was simply that there are plenty of other good books on the subject where the subject of sex is dealt with in a less offensive manner than Driscoll’s. For the life of me I can’t seem to understand why you guys think that all of us who have problems with Driscoll’s methods and theology are idiotic. There are plenty of people who are doing good work and writing books that edify instead of promoting a Christian pornography in order to accommodate the pop culture. Not all of us out here in ministry-land think Mark Driscoll is the kind of person we should be holding up as an example to our young people and our churches. If that makes me “idiotic” — I wear the badge with honor.

  17. Dr. Jim Wilson   •  

    If you sleep with dogs you’ll get fleas. Shame on you teach us how to preach not read this kind of trash.

  18. Pingback: Passion For Preaching » Blog Archive » The Oversexualizaion of Marriage

  19. TeresaR   •  

    Paraphrasing Driscoll in the “Can We” chapter, he admits that the sexual acts in question would’ve been unthinkable in our grandparents’ marriages, but they have become mainstream due to porngraphy. That alone is quite telling.

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