The book is Real Marriage; the Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll. Mark is the pastor of Mars Hill Church, a megachurch in Seattle, which he and Grace started in 1996.
[Actually the reason I chose to read the book is that I was asked to watch the video series of the same name on the internet. I was informed by friends that it had been of tremendous help in their marriages. As I couldn’t imagine staring at a computer screen for hours, I decided to buy the book instead. The fact is that I find sermons a bit boring, especially on a small screen. With a book, I can pick it up or put it down at my leisure; I can also highlight or mark areas which I want to question or discuss. And after putting off writing this review for a few weeks, a book is much easier to go back over. Besides all that, I’m a dinosaur. I’m more comfortable with a book in my hand than a laptop.]
This book has apparently been of help in many marriages and comes highly recommended by pastors, teachers and authors – 3 pages of enthusiastic blurbs.
The Preface was in some ways encouraging to my skeptical eyes. It sets the pace for our reading of the book with a series of “don’ts” explaining to us “some ways not to read it.”
Unfortunately, as I read the book, I was drawn back to some of these “don’ts.”
· “Don’t read as a voyeur trying to figure out our sex life.” Sorry, but Mark and Grace reveal so much about their sex life that one doesn’t need to be a voyeur to try to figure it out. Their story of her shame and his inability to forgive was difficult for me to comprehend. They freely tell of their sexual activities before marriage, but somehow one act by Grace became a crisis leading to her shame and his unforgiving spirit.
· “Don’t read as a critic trying to find where you think we might be wrong.” Again, I’m sorry but that’s the way I read. I read a book like this as a pastor, teacher and counselor. I seek to sort out the good from the bad – not just the useless, but that which I feel might be in some way harmful to the undiscerning reader.
· Some of the other “don’ts” seem to be claims of authority for this book that it doesn’t really have. This bothers me.
· I agreed with the final one: “Don’t copy our methods. The principles … are more important than the methods. Principles are timeless and unchanging. Methods vary … Hold fast to biblical principles and remain flexible and teachable with methods for your marriage.” A great exhortation to the reader. However, the authors themselves often fail to make the distinction between biblical principles and simple methods of applying those principles. And they don’t always make the distinction between biblical principles and those principles derived from other sources. This failure is one of the great weaknesses of the book.
The first five chapters (Part 1 MARRIAGE) are mostly ramblings, containing personal stories, good advice and a few biblical principles, although one must be careful and “examine the Scriptures … to see whether these things are so” (Acts 17:11). Some of the handling of biblical texts is downright sloppy. One example is Grace’s retelling of the story of Esther to picture her as an “example (that) illustrates the repeated command across all Scripture that wives respectfully submit to their husbands” (page 65). It does no such thing!
It is in Part 2 SEX, that the book comes close to living up to its reputation for both openness and controversy. It is here, I am told, that it speaks to the present generation. And certainly, I’d say, it tries to be more open and frank.
Chapter: Sex: God, Gross, or Gift? Is probably the best chapter in the book and it does speak well to the present generation which, though saturated with sexual images, stimuli and “freedoms” has as many or more hang-ups as my generation.
I did resent the statement that “… one source of the sex-as-gross view is religious and sexually prudish older women who … teach younger women that sex is for husbands and babies but not for personal pleasure” (page 117). I happen to be married to a “religious” but not “sexually prudish older woman.” In my personal experience I have found sexual hang-ups just as common among younger people - even the irreligious - who have disconnected sex from love.
Chapters 7 and 8 on abuse and porn are well done and Chapter 9, Selfish Lovers and Servant Lovers, is excellent. I would strongly disagree, however, with one item in the list “Ways We Are Selfish Lovers” (pages 165-167). Somehow, to “only have sex when we both feel like it at the same time” does not seem to me to be selfish. I cannot imagine sex with my wife when either of us did not feel like it. Apparently this generation has forgotten the concept of “wooing” and “flirting” with one’s spouse. Of course, sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t. It is then we must respect the other’s lack of desire.
I have mixed feeling about Chapter 10 Can We ________? The ageistic prejudices of the authors show in the put-down (disguised as a warning) in the opening paragraphs “If you are older, from a highly conservative religious background, live far away from a major city, do not spend much time on the Internet, or do not have cable television, the odds are that you will want to read this chapter while sitting down, with the medics ready on speed dial” (page 177). Follow this up with the introduction to 1 Corinthians which begins on the same page. The list of the Corinthians’ questions mentioned on pages 177 and 178 is pure fiction.
In this chapter are a number of questions regarding sexual activities between a married couple. The questions are in regard to various sexual practices, many of which might seem normal to some, while to others they might seem downright kinky!
To each of these activities the authors apply three questions taken from 1 Corinthians 6:12. These are excellent and I believe should be used in every ethical decision we make, not just in the area of sex. The questions are:
· Is it lawful?
· Is it helpful?
· Is it enslaving?
However, if I may, I’d like to add some comments from an older generation’s perspective.
· First, love must be the prevailing motive. As the previous chapter makes clear, we are to be servant lovers. Many of these activities will be seen as at best distasteful to one (if not both) of the partners. If so, they should be off the table (or to be accurate, the bed).
· Secondly, though variety may spice up our sexual activity, it should not be our main goal. Sooner or later, everything becomes old hat. Do the math. If a couple has sex only twice a week, by the time they have been married for 20 years, they will have had sex 20x52x2=2080 times! There’s bound to be some repetition.
· Sometimes the familiar is the most comforting and pleasurable.
· I fear that variety itself could be enslaving and desire for it could lead to seeking it elsewhere.
The last chapter (11) is entitled: “Reverse Engineering Your Life and Marriage.” This one seemed to me to be rather bizarre. It involves homework (Mark gives it to Grace, of course) and questions about various issues in marriage, looking back over a couple’s marriage. This is to me just a series of useless exercises and can become a form of legalism. As Uni and I look back from near the last days of our lives and marriage, we have no regrets that we have spent little time making lists. (We have spent a lot of time talking; why make lists? - Uni)
So, now as I look back over what I have written I have to ask if I would recommend this book.
Well not to the ones it is apparently written for – those with troubled marriages. While some portions of it would definitely be helpful, others might add to the confusion. I would recommend the book with reservations to those whose marriages are not troubled and who are also able to discern what is biblical and what is not and what is wise and what is not.
It is difficult to argue with the successes claimed for this book and the video series. However, I do know that the Holy Spirit is able to take our flawed efforts and use them for God’s glory. If He has done this in those successful marriages claimed, then so be it. To Him be the glory!
If anyone desires to read more of my thoughts on these matters, simply click on the words “love” and “marriage” in the topics column of this blog.