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.