Real Marriage, the Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together

Real Marriage uses the backdrop of the Driscolls’ own marriage, with its numerous struggles, to provide marital advice on a number of topics such as friendship, respect, submission, sin, repentance and forgiveness.  These subjects are covered in the first section of the book and for the most-part the authors offer no unique insights.  The Driscolls do believe in the headship of the husband and submission of the wife but also believe in mutual submission as a result of their misunderstanding of Ephesians 5:21 (p. 64).  They also wrongly teach that providing for the family is man’s curse (p. 52), that 1 Peter 3:7 is about men being better physical fighters than women, and they open the book with an out of context quote of Revelation 21:5 (p. 3).  While much of their advice is biblically solid, a good portion is opinion based on either statistics or pop-psychology—for example love languages and stereotypical categories (pp. 42-64), such as naming our troubled past in order to be healed (p. 124), selfishness beginning in childhood (p. 158) rather than part of our fallen nature and, most disturbing, “healing of memories” (pp. 127-134, 152).  Mark also shows evidence of being influenced by spiritual formation teachings (p. 209).  The best chapter in the book, in my opinion, is the second on friendship in marriage, although its title is the suggestive “Friends with Benefits” which in secular circles simply means sex between uncommitted friends.  The authors are also correct by warning us to guard our hearts rather than following them (p. 30) and they give solid teaching on repentance and forgiveness (pp. 88-100) saying “bitter people have a filter through which everything (past, present and future) is viewed negatively” (p. 100). 

Known as a “shock-jock,” Mark is relatively benign throughout the book, although he pokes fun at Catholic priests who “wear dresses” (pp. 9-10), and Grace reverts to “gutter language” once and then quickly explains herself (p. 76).  The most disturbing aspect of Part I, and often ignored by his fans, is the frequency in which God supposedly speaks to Mark, revealing important information.  He relays four direct revelations from God to himself and Grace adds another two (pp. 8, 11-12, 15, 25, 128).  In the first God tells him to marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men and plant churches.  In the most disturbing vision God shows him, in vivid description, a sexual act that Grace performed with another man prior to their marriage (pp. 11-12).  In short Driscoll is on the extreme end of those claiming to be new-Calvinist—those who are Calvinistic in theology but are open to charismatic gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

But no one is reading this book for Driscoll’s insights on marriage in general; they want to see what he has to say about sex, which is the content of Part II.  Driscoll believes that most teaching on sex inside the church is inadequate and most outside is perverted (p. xiv).  And if people don’t get answers about their sex questions from pastors and parents they will find them in dark, depraved places (p. 177).  It is for this reason that Driscoll preached through the Song of Solomon during the second year of his pastorate and again in 2007 (p. 14).  And it is also the reason for this book and for the “Real Marriage Conferences” which he holds throughout the world. 

The Driscolls believe that most people perceive sex as either gross or as god (pp. 110-122), rather than as a gift.  They teach that only by seeing sex as a god we worship are we able to make sense of the porno plague (p. 112); for this reason a whole chapter is devoted to pornography (pp. 139-155).  While there is some helpful information here it deals far too much on statistics (most of which are old and dated) and the supposed physical, chemical and biological forces behind porn addictions.  Not only can these theories not be proven or trusted, the real concern should be what God’s Word says about pornography.  On this score the Driscolls offer very little.  A few scriptural passages are scattered about but there is no mention of Ephesians 4 (and similar texts) which tell believers how to put off sin, put on righteousness and be renewed in their minds.  The authors even recommend that people journal their “entire sexual history, including everything you have ever seen, done, and had done to you sexually” (p. 152).  This fits well with their adherence to the pop-psychological theory of “healing of memories” but in fact would be a recipe for more deeply engraining sinful thoughts into the minds of people.  This is the most disappointing chapter in the book.

On the flipside of viewing sex as god is viewing sex as gross, which springs from poor education and instruction, and/or sexual abuse (pp. 114-118).  Here the Driscolls challenge some of the misconceptions taught in the church throughout the ages and then devote chapter seven to sexual abuse.  Sexual abuse is a real and horrible sin that has scarred the lives of many.  Yet, whatever helps this chapter may have provided are marred by several things.  First the Driscolls seem to lump all sinful encounters by a woman into the sexual abuse category.  This includes consensual sex (pp. 133-135).  Secondly, Grace tells us rightly that we can be cleansed from all sins because of Christ’s death (p. 136), yet her cleansing involved applying their very unbiblical advice of recalling all sexual sins in order that those memories might be healed.  Grace even asks “the Holy Spirit to restore any memories that need to be brought into the light so I could be cleansed and remade as a child of God” (p. 127).  She then journaled everything God brought to her memory about instances of verbal and sexual abuse, sin, fears, and life (p. 133).  At this point she recalls all sorts of situations including jokes, innuendos and inappropriate talk.  While there are absolutely no biblical instructions to recall and rehash forgotten sins in order to be healed of them, there is ample encouragement to do so in secular, especially Freudian, psychology that the Driscolls are obviously imbibing (p. 131).  Finally Grace joins a support group of abused women in which she talks “through the years of sin against me and sin I committed against others in response” (pp. 127-128).  While 12-step programs are all the rage in churches today, one will never find in Scripture the encouragement to develop groups for fellowship or sharing centered on specific sins.  This is another missed opportunity to shed the light of God’s truth on a tragic situation that all too many have to face. 

The Driscolls rightly see sex neither as a god nor as gross but as a gift from God to be enjoyed within marriage.  The questions the authors want to address have to do with the types of sexual activity that is permissible for married couples.  This section of the book is what is creating all the buzz and has propelled Real Marriage to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Mark warms up his reader in Chapter 9 with a mix of good biblical truths (e.g. “marriage is for our holiness before our happiness, p. 159), with psychological miscues (e.g. “selfishness begins in childhood, p. 151, rather than the fact that we are born selfish).  Mark also believes in “testosterone—induced depressions” which can be cured with more frequent sex (p. 164).  This unprovable theory will no doubt create many discussions between couples.  Some practical and mostly helpful advice is also offered (pp. 163-169).  Biblically, Mark bases most of his views on the Song of Solomon (pp. 170-176), and, while he is faithful to much of the book, he tends to read into the text what he wants to find, such as oral sex (pp. 119, 185-187) and the unfounded theory that the Shulammite was Solomon’s first wife (p. 174). 

With the preliminaries out of the way Mark launches into chapter ten entitled “Can We___________?” The premise he uses for discussing sexual acts graphically is the fact that the apostle Paul addressed such issues to the believers at Corinth, who lived amidst the sexually charged culture of their city.  What Driscoll misses is that while Paul deals clearly and boldly about the sexual sins both without and within the New Testament Church, he avoided graphic specifics.  He gave timeless teachings on purity and marital relations (1 Cor 6-8; 1 Thess 4) without titillating details.  Nevertheless, Driscoll pulls three questions from 1 Corinthians 6:12 to guide his readers toward knowing what sexual behavior is allowed between married couples:  Is it lawful (or biblically permitted)? Is it helpful (to enhance one of the God-given reasons for sex)?  And is it enslaving?  These provide a good filter to answer and help couples think through the bedroom, although Driscoll’s thoughts are somewhat marred once again by returning to psychology and a study on so-called “sexual-addition” (pp. 179-184). 

Driscoll then applies his three questions to a number of sexual acts: masturbation (pp. 181-184, relying heavily on psychology and statistics), oral sex (pp. 185-187, relying heavily on questionable interpretations of the Song of Solomon), anal sex (pp. 187-189), menstrual sex (pp. 189-190), role-playing (pp. 192-193), sex toys (p. 193), birth control (194-198), cosmetic surgery (pp. 198-200), cybersex (p. 200), sexual medication (p. 201) and marital sexual assault (pp. 201-203).  Driscoll believes all but the last sexual related action passes the first test and passes the second and third tests under certain circumstances.

These are of course the authors’ personal opinions, for the most part, but for some reason people want to hear what Driscoll has to say.  Most revealing is an advertisement at the end of the book (p. 255) promoting Driscoll’s new website.  The presenting blurb reads, “Have questions? Pastor Mark has answers.”  Give this some thought. I am most certain that if questioned Driscoll would clarify this statement by affirming that his answers come from Scripture. Nevertheless what the reader is given in Real Marriage often does not emerge from the Word but represent the views and ideas of the authors.  There is in fact some helpful biblical teaching, but to get to this the reader must disregard and/or wade through a trash heap of psycho-babble, statistics, poorly exegeted Scripture and personal opinion.  Because of all this Real Marriage is more harmful than helpful.  

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