A disturbing review

It was in the Number 1 Bestseller bin at my local Christian bookstore when I strolled in for a browse last week. And it was hard to miss at other places around the store, with its bold, red, attention-grabbing cover: “Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together” by Mark and Grace Driscoll.

I didn’t buy it, and now I’m wondering whether perhaps that was a wise move. That would certainly be Heath Lambert’s advice, who has written a measured but stinging review of the book in  the most recent edition of The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He concludes:

I hope that after reading it you will not sense the need to read Real Marriage. I want to be clear: I have nothing against Mark Driscoll and his wife. Instead, I am thankful for (what I have been told is) a clear witness to the gospel in Seattle. Having said that, I am deeply disturbed by this book on marriage. This book will hurt people. It is going to create confusion in marriages, trouble in the sexual relationships of married couples, turmoil in individuals struggling with all manner of difficulties, and questions about the nature of marriage from God’s perspective.

Has anyone read the Driscolls’ book and the review? Are Lambert’s concerns justified?

9 thoughts on “A disturbing review

  1. Michael Lochore sent me an email with these thoughts (reproduced here with his permission):


    Hi Tony

    Michael Lochore here in Margaret River. I have read the Driscoll book and (thanks to following on from your link) the review.

    I have a half a shelf full of marriage books in the church library. I must admit that I have trouble motivating myself to read them to review them properly. They are all full of sound advice that the writer has attempted to structure very thoughtfully and some are even interesting. There are a few ladies in the church who borrow them sometimes, and I expect that they actually read them. There may even be some who have made some changes because of them. They are not, however, likely to get the conversations started among the 50% of men who are likely to be regularly using porn or the women who have suffered abuse.

    In preparation for a series on marriage (triggered by the Gay Marriage debate) I read two books on marriage- Tim Keller’s recent book and Mark Driscoll’s. Tim Keller’s was excellent and biblical and I would love to think that people will read it and talk about it. But the reality is that most will not.

    For a well rounded book on sex and marriage, I have not seen better than “One Flesh.” “One Flesh”, and a lot of pre-marriage counselling, recommends starting conversations about the difficult aspects of sexuality, marriage and personal history. “Real Marriage”, despite all its faults, actually gets those conversations started. The brutal honesty of the Driscolls encourages those honest conversations more than all the gentle encouragement and wise words do.

    Grace Driscoll’s story of the effects of her abuse and the importance of talking through that lacks the practical information on how to take things forward (as said in the review) but is more likely than anything else I have read to start the process happening.

    Mark Driscoll’s chapter with its references to porn does not have the best practical advice on how to break porn addiction. It does, however, motivate you to stay away from porn and do your best to help others get off porn with a power that I have not seen matched elsewhere.

    The Driscoll book on marriage is perhaps more inspiring story than biblical teaching. (I would, however, argue that the message is not unbiblical). It is, however, an inspiring conversation starter.

    I would recommend this book to younger people, especially to understand the effects of sexual history on their marriages or future marriages, and to older pastors and counsellors, if only to prompt them to think about why this book connects so powerfully with so many people.

    God bless heaps,
    Mike L

  2. On the basis of the reviews of Real Marriage which I’ve read, I could not imagine reading the book or giving it to my wife to read.

    The most telling warnings were from Michael Jensen [on facebook], the review by Denny Burk and the review by the woman who used to be women’s ministry leader for Mars Hill [which is this one, which others have also commented on above].

    I find it very hard to listen to what Mark Driscoll says now, because of the disturbing tolerance of distasteful, degrading sexual practices which are so clearly exploitative of women found in his book.

    As many reviewers have pointed out, his book gives too much information about pornography and practices that many of us would have been previously unaware of.

    His own version of how he treated his wife [as recounted by most of the reviewers] also makes me wonder about his fitness for ministry and stops me taking anything else he says seriously.

  3. I read the reviews linked to in here and the four part one by Tim Challies and I cannot see how anyone could, in good conscience, recommend this book.

  4. I recently read the book and found it helpful. I wrote a review for couples in my church to read, which is included below:

    Christian books on marriage tend to fall into two categories – a theological insight into the way marriage is to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church, or a manual of sexual techniques that a pastor or mature Christian wouldn’t dare tell you. In many ways, this book seeks to find the middle ground between these. It doesn’t assume that, being mature godly Christians, our marriages just need a better theological understanding, and a few minor tweaks. But on the other hand, whilst being honest and open, and not being coy in any way, it doesn’t give gratuitous details, either of Mark and Grace’s marriage, or of sexual issues in general, beyond what is needed to provide clear guidance.
    Perhaps the most important part of the book is the Preface, which concerns “How not to read this book”. I think there are two particular points that they make that should be taken in before reading the book further:
    1. As Mark and Grace do open up much of their life in the book, we shouldn’t approach the book as voyeurs in any way. It would be very easy to do so, and start to judge them, or approach it like the gossip column in the tabloid newspapers. Doing this would be completely unhelpful
    2. As with any marriage, or any book on marriage, it is so easy to say to your spouse “See – you need to change”. The best way is, of course, to pray that the Lord will help you to change, first and foremost
    The opening chapter of the book is largely biographical in nature. As such, the warnings about voyeurism are particularly relevant here. It contains aspects which those who came into marriage with certain unresolved baggage would connect with. It also provides some encouragement for those who have been married for some time, and have long-term unresolved issues – for it seems that Mark and Grace themselves were in that position – but saw their marriage transformed.
    The chapter “Friends with Benefits” covers a topic that is rarely raised in marriage books – how to make your spouse your (best) friend. In fact, they point out that of the 187 books on marriage Mark and Grace read in researching the book, none really deal with the subject! I was the least convinced about the Scriptural basis for their arguments, and this is much more of a practical chapter, based on their own experience and practices. However, that doesn’t negate the value of what they suggest: “we’ve…found that by always working on our friendship, the rest of marriage seems to sort itself out in time. So we would commend to you the goal of devoting the rest of your life to being a better friend to your spouse.”
    The next two chapters return to more familiar ground, with a focus on the respective roles of men and women. Again, it is important to remember the warnings of the preface when reading these chapters – read them to look to see how you can change, rather than your spouse. The first section of the book is then closed with a chapter called “Taking out the trash”, which gives some helpful advice on how to deal with repentance, forgiveness, bitterness and conflict in marriage. Regarding the latter, they make a helpful point about the value of a “good fight”. Fighting is not seen as a bad thing – if it is done as friends, and not as enemies. It was refreshing to hear of some practical steps that can be taken to fight in a godly way!
    The second section of the book is all about sex. The first few chapters deal with some appropriate and inappropriate attitudes towards sex. For example, it is explained that sex is a gift from God, rather than something that is to be idolised or considered repulsive; there is helpful advice (and references to further material) on how to deal with abuse; the chapter on pornography, although directed mainly towards men, also considers ways in which women can be affected by this too (fans of the Twilight series may want to skip the second paragraph on page 145…but, then again, maybe they shouldn’t!)
    The “Selfish Lovers and Servant Lovers” chapter is both a biblical and practical guide to improving a couple’s sex life, particularly by being a lot less selfish. The exposition of sections of Song of Solomon is helpful, honest and enlightening – although I’m not 100% convinced that their interpretation is always correct. For example, it may be stretching it a bit to say that Song of Solomon 7:12 refers to planning some time away for a romantic vacation in the countryside. That said, this chapter is probably one of the most important in the whole book, which could transform the sex life of any marriage.
    And now we come to the juicy bits…The chapter “Can We…?” looks at what is and is not appropriate in the sex life of a married couple. As such, it deals with topics that most Christians wouldn’t dare talk about, but that many Christian couples need to know the answers to, yet have no-one to turn to. In each case discussed, Mark and Grace look not just at the issue itself, but evaluate it according to biblical principles. This is a very helpful approach, as it allows these same principles to be applied to other issues that may come up but haven’t been mentioned in the chapter.
    The book ends with a chapter called “Reverse-Engineering your Life and Marriage”. While helpful for any married couple, it is particularly useful for those who have been married for some years, but need to re-adjust their time and energy in more healthy ways – to get the right priorities between self, spouse, family, church, work, etc. Although I found the approach they took a bit too regimented for most people (e.g. a weekly husband/wife planning meeting for the week ahead), the concepts presented are sound ones, and will help restore the correct balance, if applied properly.
    In summary, this is a book that is both biblical and practical. It’s easy to read, but will take commitment to God and to your spouse to put into practice. If you do so, you will, no doubt, see your marriage transformed – so it will be well worth it.

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