Review: Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, by Mark and Grace Driscoll

The latest publication from Driscoll country–Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together–is not for the faint of heart. As Rachel Evans pointed out in her world, there is much to like. There is also much about which to shake your head.

I have VERY mixed feelings about his treatment of sex.

On one hand, he appears to spend a disproportionate amount of time on the subject. In the first part of the book. he describes his sexual history, and that of his wife.

OTOH, there is a VERY IMPORTANT takeaway here: the impact that premarital sex can have on a marriage. They describe, in full detail, the dynamics that can cause such baggage to foment marital strife that can lead to a divorce. This provides a basis for how couples who enter marriage with sexual baggage can kill the proverbial foxes in the vineyard before they metastasize.

As I read through the book, I first questioned the Driscolls’ decision to describe some of Grace’s sexual history, one aspect of which caused very serious problems for both of them. Some critics would rightly–at first glance–suspect that Mark could easily be using his wife.

At the same time, I developed an appreciation for their dedication to sticking it out and working through the junk. They provide a firsthand portrait of how a couple–even with substantial sexual baggage–can be redeemed through the power of the Holy Spirit.

My only gripe about what he described: during those years, Mark should not have counseled couples on that subject. He should, instead, have deferred to other leaders. He also would have been wiser to bounce ideas off his elders and other respected preachers, before preaching on the subject. This would have allowed him to temper what was a festering misogyny due to unresolved baggage.

But he does describe a work of sanctification that–as a whole–is a VERY worthy read.

In part 1, Chapter 2–his chapter on marital friendship–was total gold. A must-read.

The men, on the other hand, would take some issue with his treatment of men (Chapter 3). While I am a complementarian–Biblically speaking, the husband is head of the wife–I still disagree with his assessment of what happened in the Garden of Eden.

Fact is, God commanded the man and the woman not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While Adam should have taken a stand and not eaten the fruit–even as his wife was clearly deceived–his sin was not “failure to lead” but rather “deciding, clearly knowing better, to eat of the fruit.”

When God confronted Adam, He did not say: “What is this you have done? Have you failed and allowed your wife to eat of the fruit of the tree?” No…he confronted each of them for sinning by eating the fruit. Each was held responsible for their sins. Each suffered dearly: the man had the burden of hard labor, as did the woman (literally). The earth was cursed such that they would not reap the total fruits of their labors. He would have a natural tendency to dominate her, and she would have a natural tendency to undermine him. Even in the midst of that, however, God promised deliverance.

I mention all of this because Driscoll’s (flawed) understanding of Genesis 3 tends to drive his overkill with respect to headship theology. While I would not label him a heretic, I’d say his understanding is fractured here.

Still, there is much to appreciate, as he addresses different types of men who do pervade the ranks of Christians:

(a) Tough chauvanists that include the hyper-masculine macho types, the brawlers, and those who defining their worth on the basis of their accomplishments. I’ve seen all three, and they are fractured variations of masculinity, even if they can come off as a refreshing alternative to feminism.

(b) tender cowards: this includes some men who are hyper-spiritual (the idiots who will bearhug you and say, “I love you in the Lawwwwdddd!” I want to punch them.); those who work and tend to their own business, but neglect spiritual growth; and those who perpetuate continuous adolescence. They are out there, and yes they need addressing.

That said, in this nugget, he creates a bit of a hole for himself:

There are too many guys who turn marriage into a job description. He does his responsibility, she does hers, and there’s no emotional connection whatsoever. This is a sin of omission. “I didn’t hit her; I didn’t yell at her.” But you didn’t love her. You didn’t connect with her. You didn’t encourage her. You didn’t pursue her. So ultimately, you failed her. Not only do women initiate most divorces; they often do so because they have lost hope that their emotionally flaccid husbands will ever change, and so they walk away forever.

Driscoll, Mark (2012-01-03). Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together (p. 50). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

While that last sentence is technically correct, we must point out that such divorces–which include the Eat-Pray-Love dynamic–are NEVER JUSTIFIABLE IN A CHRISTIAN SENSE.

Fact: Women file two-thirds or more of the divorces.

Fact: this “divorce revolution” is DIRECTLY ATTRIBUTABLE to the advent of “no-fault divorce” laws. This has jacked up the risks that men and women face.

Fact: there are cases where divorcees–of both sexes, but overwhelmingly the women on this sin–are simply concocting a tale of abuse after the fact in order to sanctify their “Biblical divorce”. This is addressed NOWHERE by either Mark or Grace.

Fact: combined with his overstretches of headship theology, this assesssment of marriage leads one to unwisely conclude that he believes perfect headship by the husband–to the wife’s satisfaction–will (a) guarantee her perfect submission, and (b) remove all possibility of divorce.

That would be erroneous–and I don’t think Driscoll really believes that–as (a) perfect headship by the husband does not ensure her perfect submission just as (b) her perfect submission would not guarantee his perfect leadership.

Personally, I think part of the problem is that Mark wrote chapter 3 and Grace wrote chapter 4. As a result, while Grace did an admirable job of writing about the women, but failed to address the minefields that Mark left in chapter 3.

Chapter 5–the chapter on taking out the trash–was well-written. This is very good material.

After that the Driscolls devote an 5 entire chapters to assessing sex in specificity.

Chapters 6 and 7–the first two chapters of that installment–are very well done, and are, in my opinion, gold. Every Christian needs to read those two chapters.

Chapter 8, the chapter on pornography, may have been necessary, but reading it was like kayaking through a lake of toxic sludge. Men and women: read it, but not after dinner. They do a fine job describing the dynamics of porn’s effects on neurochemical pathways. But it is a gruesome read.


Chapter 9, which addressed selfish and unselfish lovers, was total gold. They lay down very good principles, and in fact are congruent with something I have always believed: who you are in the bedroom is merely a reflection of who you are out of the bedroom. If you are selfish, self-serving, and narcissistic outside the marriage bed, that will fester its way into your love life. This is why men who used Game as singles–to get notches on their belts–will bring very bad baggage, as will women who, as singles rode the Alpha Carousel.

Chapter 10–“Can We __?”, which addressed particular sexual acts–was perhaps the most controversial of the individual chapters.

This chapter is not an easy one to read. In it, he addresses certain popular sexual acts, and, while he lays down some good principles and errs on the side of liberty, there is a LOT OF LATITUDE FOR DIVERGING VIEWS.

Some readers will question his wisdom in writing it.

As I mulled over the chapter, I found myself STRENUOUSLY DISAGREEING regarding certain sex acts–anal sex in particular–as that carries HUGE DANGERS due to its unsantitary nature, combined with the fact that the anus is NOT designed to handle the physical load of that act. (The male homosexual community are a HUGE case in point, as they are VERY disease-ridden compared to heterosexuals, even the latter who are promiscuous.) While I have no Biblical grounds to say “Thou shalt not” here, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND AGAINST IT, and for my reasons given.

Still, his treatment of a certain other act was long overdue. This is because there have been conflicting standards thrust on Americans over the years: (a) some of it due to legal doctrines and definitions of “sodomy”, under which even the marital variety of this falls, EVEN THOUGH IT IS IN THE SONG OF SOLOMON; (b) otherwise popular conservative authors such as Mary Pride and Judith Reisman (both of whom I respect on a variety of levels) who counsel against it and even call for the return of sodomy laws; and (c) the fractured nature of sex promoted by those who argue from a perspective of past abuse. We MUST NOT MINIMIZE THEIR EXPERIENCES; that said, we must not allow that to foment reactionary theology.

The chapter on abuse is heart-wrenching, but definitely a masterpiece by Grace.

The third part of the book is, what I call Mark Driscoll Meets Steve Covey! Much of the thrust of that section is very good, as husbands and wives need to be proactive and forward-thinking in their marriages. The principles are good, but please don’t get bogged down in the details.

Overall, I give the book 2.8 stars on a 4.0 scale. A grade of C+. I’d rate it higher, but, honestly, I am caught between a great bunch of “AMEN…BRING IT” moments, but a significant amount of, “Holy crap…this is TMI!” moments.

I can see why they’re there, but I am understandably undecided as to how much of it was better-left on the editor’s floor.

Preparing Our Daughters

“The thing is, you need to think about what you love to do, and what you can do to earn income. Even if you want to be a stay-at-home-mom, you’ll probably need to be able to provide some kind of income in different seasons of your life.”

And so went part of the conversation with my Oldest daughter, surrounding our first introductory event at the High School last night, where she will be attending in the fall. I watched my daughter sit through the mini speeches about P-AP and AP classes. I watched my daughter walk around the school, glancing at Electives booths, saying hi to friends she saw along the way, making decisions, defining who she is and who she is not, and the, “OH.MY.WORD! MY DAUGHTER’S GOING INTO HIGH SCHOOL!” was replaced with much pride, and gratitude, in this amazing young woman.

She is growing up in a time when she will be expected to have a career of some sort, where she will need to have skills to earn income to support herself, or to help support her family. We talk about all these things. She wants to be a Momma, too, someday.

As I sit here pondering these recent events and conversations, I am so eternally grateful I’ve not been engrossed in a career these last fourteen years of her life, that I’ve been there for her, that I’ve been the one who has cared for her when she was sick, who saw her first steps, who heard her first words, who held her when she cried, who wrapped her up when she came running and laughing into my arms, who guided and disciplined and loved her, everyday. Fourteen years have gone by in a blink, and in a short breath she will be graduating from High School.

The time invested in my daughters’ lives is priceless, and it’s a one-way-ticket. There’s no going back in time to re-do things, to be there when you weren’t, to give up a career to care for your kids. Money is slim, sacrifices have been very real, but I’ve been there for my girls. I hope and pray I am equipping them and guiding them so that someday, they can be there for their children, too.

I stand at this crossroads in my life … remembering times when I was drowning in diapers, up to my eyeballs in whiney babies, overwhelmed with barf everywhere, spending hours in doctor’s offices, hearing my preschooler say, “one more hug, Mommy,” before letting me leave so she could go to sleep, still hearing those little footsteps pitter patter across my kitchen floor, the hours and hours I’ve spent with school teachers and administration on my daughters’ behalf … and it was not only worth it, but it’s gone. I can’t get that time back. And really and truly, it went by sooo fast.

I think it is un-wise to raise daughters thinking they will be able to get married and never need to earn a reasonable income. But I also think it’s very un-wise to guide and direct them to become career-woman, to put everything relating to career, including education, at the top of their priority list, and to push being a wife and mother way down to a distant second and third.

We talk a lot about college out here, and college debt, and the changes in education, and what to do if you’re in the midst of that. But it should begin much, much earlier … when they’re born … raising them to think, to make wise, thoughtful choices, speaking Truth and reality into their hearts and souls and lives, and guiding them in ways that are not only godly, but also beneficial and helpful and good.

Cause at 14, most of the hard work is done. If I haven’t established trust and respect by now, it would be very hard to come by. But I have, and she still listens to me. I’m overwhelmed. My baby is no longer a baby … she’s fixing to be a freshman in High School. And she’s ready.