Book Review: Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll

Title:  Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together
Author:  Mark and Grace Driscoll
Publisher:  Thomas Nelson
Publishing Year: 2012
Pages: 282
My Rating: 3 out of 5 (1 meaning I hated the book, 5 meaning I loved the book)

This book on marriage by Mark Driscoll and his wife has caused quite the stir among Evangelicals so of course I wanted to read it!  I’m actually glad I did.  I thought this book had some very helpful insights.

First, I always appreciate transparency and this book has lots of it.  Right away the Driscolls gives us an inside look into their own marriage marred by frustration and sin.  Growing up I viewed my pastor and church leaders as practically apostolic.  Yet, here we are once again reminded that our leaders have feet of clay.  We are all sinners in need of redemptive grace.  At the same time, it is also a reminder that no matter where we are in our walk with the Lord, sin will be a struggle.  We ought to anticipate it and surround ourselves with other believers for the purpose of accountability.  Sin can only be dealt with when it is acknowledged, exposed and repented of.  This is a extremely humbling and humiliating task, but a crucial one nonetheless.

Second, I love the emphasis on friendship.  A married couple is not merely two individuals cohabitating together fulfilling a covenant promise which is the only thing keeping them together.

“As Mark has studied friendship, it has been an amazing gift to me, and hope has returned. We both needed to understand what a healthy friendship could be. I feel safe again, knowing we are both working on the friendship and building trust. It is easier for a woman to think of doing life with a friend than with a dictator or unemotional ruler. The husband is still the head, but a “loving her as Christ loves the church” head—a considerate friend.  Friendship is an integral part of a truly Christian marriage and a safeguard against emotional adultery.” – page 25

Third, this book does tackle a subject that most other marriage books leave out – sexual abuse.  Grace Driscoll shares her testimony of sexual abuse in her past that brought serious problems into her relationship with Mark.  Mistakenly she assumed what was in the past would stay there.  It was time to move on.  Yet, this attitude of hiding her shame would only serve to almost ruin another relationship.

“We all get to a point where we need to stop running from God in shame and start running to Him for protection and the healing of our souls! Do you find yourself struggling to spend time with Jesus regularly because you feel unlovable and undeserving of His comfort and forgiveness? Does your pride tell you that you need to fix things on your own (not even possible) or pretend they didn’t happen to earn His approval? We find it so easy at times to believe the greatest lie—that Jesus’ death wasn’t enough for us and what we did. I had reached a critical point where I knew it was time to discover the story of Jesus all over again and let it seep into my life.” – page 127

In our Christian circles, there are countless numbers of hurting souls hidden by a mask of their own making hoping no one sees the shame and disgrace that marks their past.  We must work to promote an atmosphere where such victims feel safe to talk about these sensitive issues.  Sin needs to be exposed, victims need to be healed and perpetrators need to be punished.

Fourth, the chapter on pornography is an uncomfortable but much needed reminder of a supposed secret sin that has catastrophic effects on marriage, churches and society in general.  As porn becomes increasingly easy to access, men (and even women) must be continually confronted about the evil of this accepted sin.  Porn’s deadly effects need to exposed.

“Porn ultimately leads to the objectification of women. ‘Pornography shapes and rewires in such a way that we become unable to see women as we should. We no longer direct our sexual drives in appropriate ways.’ When porn is in a marriage, even the residue from past use that has stopped, sexual intimacy is replaced with sexual technique and the goal becomes performing rather than loving. Porn consumption also anesthetizes men to real women and meaningful relationships.” – page 148

Finally, there was the big sex chapter that made everyone blush.  Mark evaluated several sex acts many deem to be too taboo to mention in polite company.  He runs each through the prism of three questions, (1)  Is it lawful?  (2) Is it helpful? and (3)  Is it enslaving?  If you’ve heard anything about this book, this is the chapter you’ve heard about.  I’ll admit, at first glance I thought much of this chapter was quite inappropriate and purposefully sensational.  However, as I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that this may actually be helpful to some people.  I was raised in a Christian home and have been a member of a conservative, Bible-believing church since I can remember.  We don’t talk about these things.  Honestly, I’ve never even thought about some of these things.  (By the way, I don’t feel the need to get into too much detail here about what specific acts he addresses)  Many of the people I know also fall into this category.  But, this chapter was not meant for me.  Mark Driscoll is reaching people I could never reach with the gospel.  Many who attend Mars Hill are unchurched folks living in the midst of a culture saturated with false ideas about sex, pornography and morality.  For them, all of this stuff may actually be normal.  Now that they have come to the gospel, many of them have to be asking if these things are still permissible.  What do we say to them and even others who may have grew up in the church but wandered off into worldly lies of fornication.   Even in my good-little-girls-and-boys youth group, we all had questions about some of this stuff no one dared asked about.  I’m now wishing some of them had asked those questions as it would have saved them much grief.  Instead, we were told to just wait for marriage and any thoughts beforehand were sinful.

Ok, now having said all of that, my overall impression of this book is negative.   It is not a book I can freely recommend though I can see some use for it.  My negativity is a result of two major problems I see.

First, in section dealing with their own marriage we see Grace’s sin revealed for all to see.  However, what is missing is much of admission of guilt from Mark.  Yes, I understand that Grace’s sinful past resulted in her withholding sexual pleasure from her husband.  This made Mark understandably frustrated.   But where is the compassion of a loving husband?  This chapter really makes Mark out to be an ogre of man more obsessed with sex than the well-being of his wife.  I wish Mark would have included more about his own sin of ignoring the needs and pain of his wife for so long.  It really seems as though he is laying 99% of the guilt for their martial conflict squarely on her.  Though there are a few token references to Mark’s sin, the overwhelming majority of book focuses on Grace’s problems.  I would hate to be in Grace’s shoes and fear what some men may take away from this about how to resolve their own marriage problems.

The second major issue I have with this book is the most obvious one – the over-emphasis on sex.   Walking away from this book you would think sex is the most important part of marriage.  Everything rises and falls on your sex life.  I would think a Biblical view of marriage is far more than the sexual release valve that this book makes it out to be.  What is absolutely lacking in this book (other than a few quick and passing references) is what to do when sex may not even be a possibility for whatever reason – age, medical condition, or whatever.  While sex is an important part of marriage, sex is not the most important part of marriage.  I would have love to have seen more discussion of marriage as a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church.  But, I guess when you are obsessed with sex, you don’t have time to reflect on such matters.

In short, I think Real Marriage was a little too “real” for me.  While this book can be helpful in many ways, I would suggest looking elsewhere if your marriage needs more than some good sex tips.

Purchase this book –  Christian Book Distributers              Amazon

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

One thought on “Book Review: Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll

  1. Good review. The word that came to my mind – with sorrow – while reading this book was “carnal.” I’m afraid that Mark is encouraging carnality in his audience instead of pressing them toward a more noble mind.

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