I have read many books about marriage, and Christians wrote most of them. I admit that I am not exceptionally fond of the genre. The shelf of marriage-help books in a Christian bookshop is sort of like Wikipedia. Anyone married can take a pen in his hand and give forth his advice on marriage, and buttress it with experience or with various biblical texts or (often) with both. So there are many really bad books on marriage out there, and then a few better tomes on the subject. Soon, I plan to review one of the better ones: This Momentary Marriage, by John and Noël Piper.
The sad book that is my subject today is not one of the better ones. In fact it is the worst book on marriage that I ever remember reading. It is called Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life Together, by Mark and Grace Driscoll. (No link added. I could not bring myself to do it). Mark is the pastor of Mars Hill Church, in Seattle, WA.
In reviewing the promotional material for the book I found great irony in Mark’s motivation for writing the book. In one piece, he said he wrote the book because, “There are enough lame books on marriage out there written by guys who would not dare talk about their own sin.” I found that ironic, because as I read the book, the emphasis was never on Mark’s sin – though he admitted to sinful behavior and attitudes. More than not, Mark portrayed himself the good guy. Not so for his wife. It takes a lot of guts for one to write a book detailing how bad one’s wife was, doesn’t it?
The book is not a book on marriage per se, though its authors billed it that way. The best way to categorize it is to say that it is almost half autobiography and a bit more than half a sex-help manual.
I plodded through the autobiographical section. While far from well-written, Mark does have a way with a phrase. He is never boring to read. He is upsetting at times, but never boring. One big issue that I have with this section has to do with Mark learning of an incident of his wife’s past sexual sin. It happened just after the two began their dating relationship. Mark admits that both of them had been sexually active in the past and that they brought sex into their relationship early on. The long and short of the story is that, while on a trip after high school, Grace had sex with someone else and never told Mark, then her current boyfriend, about it.
A few years later they married, and while expecting their first child Mark had a “revelation” while he slept in which he saw the act take place. In the morning, Grace admitted it to Mark and this rocked their already rocky marriage.
My beef with this testimony is that it is framed in a misleading way: Mark is the good guy and Grace sinned against him. He built up to this story with several pages of Mark refusing the advances of many young and beautiful women while dating Grace, though, as I said, he does admit to sexual sin before they began dating. So, in Mark’s view he was “faithful” to Grace, but she was not “faithful” to him. They both go so far as to say that Grace had sinned against Mark. And this is where I think they are off. Though the behavior was obviously sinful, Grace was not ‘bound’ in marriage to Mark or to anyone else. It was fornication, not adultery. Mark insists that he never would have married Grace if he knew about it, and that is fine. But Mark does not seem to factor into this that he himself was sexually sinning with Grace during this season as well. If pre-marital sex is cheating against one’s future spouse, Mark fails to note that they are both guilty and they both committed this sin before and during their dating relationship. Mark castigates Grace and overlooks his own sin. It is painful for me to read such immature and un-biblical conclusions, especially in a book that a pastor wrote.
The worst part is the explicit and bizarre section on sex (Part 2 of the book). The section is filled with terrible exegesis and silly and arbitrary posturing about details and subjects that are not meant to be discussed in public, let alone put into a book intended for Christians. It is also classic Mark Driscoll. He is in his zone when he is writing material meant to shock. He thinks it a sign of manliness and maturity to discuss frankly and openly matters that most pastors (including this one) would never discuss in public, let alone write about. On the contrary, I think it is another sign of troubling immaturity. Maybe even disqualifying immaturity.
Chapter 10 is called, Can We ___________? And the chapter gives just what the title seems to promise. The authors cover and comment on all things sex, and try to determine from biblical texts if certain acts are permissible and helpful. Mark and Grace go from pastor and pastor’s wife to research-based sexual therapists and back again many times, and it is difficult for me to understand how they felt themselves qualified to write this chapter, and how they envisioned it actually proving helpful.
This book is a best seller. There are several top-rate reviews and the majority are at least somewhat critical. Most reviews by Christian pastors and leaders are more charitable than I have been, and most try to find redeemable qualities about this book. My dilemma is that I can’t find anything to commend it. It is, to be very blunt, fit for the rubbish bin.
Don’t buy this book, please. Buy two lattes instead. That is a far better use of $9. And if one of them is for your spouse then it will be more helpful for your marriage too.