A day late and a dollar short is better than never, right?
Mark Driscoll, the shock jock of the Reformed world, waded into the marriage book fray earlier this year with Real Marriage, which is essentially his sermon series on the Song of Solomon distilled into book form. And not distilled all that well, honestly. I suspect many interns were involved, which may explain the rather scattered and disjointed feel of the book.
But let's be honest: Average-to-below-average writing is not exactly unheard of in the evangelical (or even the Reformed) world. And Driscoll's a preacher, not a writer. So let's cut him some slack on the presentation and dive into the substance.
The pros of this book, at least according to the many, many reviews I've seen, are twofold: 1) Driscoll sticks to his complementarian (albeit hyper-masculine) guns, and 2) he addresses the (heretofore largely unexplored) relationship between friendship and marriage. Fair enough, I guess.
Except I have the same issue with his discussion of friendship as I do with . . . a lot of his preaching, actually. Which is to say, he has some good things to say, but I question his exegesis. See, I don't think the Bible actually says much about friendship in marriage. There's not a lot of evidence of husbands and wives in the Bible really being friends. I suppose they may have been, but we just don't see it. Which makes a lot of sense--the culture certainly didn't encourage friendship between the sexes. They didn't really engage as peers, as equals. Not that I disagree with Driscoll's conclusions, mind you. In today's culture, things are different--husband and wives usually are friends, and it's very helpful to think about what that looks like. Which is where Driscoll's thoughts on how to love someone as both a spouse and a friend come in handy. But there's a world of difference between saying something is a good idea, practically speaking, and saying that it's biblical.
Oh, and the marriage questionnaire at the end of the book looked decent as well. Now, on to the cons.
The cons of this book pretty much all have to do with sex--most notably the infamous chapter entitled "Can We _____?" in which Driscoll addresses several fairly explicit marital activities that he's apparently been questioned about over the years. Some reviewers and pastors have objected the content itself, claiming that it's inappropriate and that such things shouldn't be discussed in a book (or possibly at all). I . . . sort of get the point, but I also get Driscoll's point that we shouldn't let the world's perspective go unchallenged.
Others are more disturbed by the rubric Driscoll uses in answering the chapter's title question, which essentially boils down to three questions:
1) Is X lawful? (read: is it explicitly condemned by Scripture)There is also a threshold question, which is mentioned but not discussed at length: Does X violate either spouse's conscience?
2) Is X helpful?
3) Is X enslaving?
First of all, leaving aside the possible exegetical issues, I think this grid leaves out several other useful questions, helpfully described (albeit in a different context, though still an exposition of I Cor. 6:12) by Sinclair Ferguson: Is it beneficial to myself and others (two separate questions under Ferguson's analysis), is it consistent with Christ's Lordship (how do I feel about involving Christ in this activity), and is it consistent with biblical example? Tim Challies wisely raises the issue of motive, which Driscoll seems to ignore: Why do I want to do this thing? To honor my spouse or to gratify myself? Am I trying to express love for my spouse, or am I trying to use my spouse to fulfill a pornographic fantasy? Am I objectifying my spouse or respecting him or her as a person made in God's image? Is the husband seeking to love his wife as Christ loved the church--sacrificially and with an eye toward her sanctification? If the motivation is self-centered, then even an otherwise permissible activity can be sinful. Driscoll's analysis side-steps all these considerations, and is, as a result, rather incomplete.
However, my biggest issue here was with the threshold question of conscience, which was mentioned at the outset of the chapter, and then essentially forgotten. I think there is a very real risk that an objecting spouse may be reluctant to speak up, particularly when faced with a book that reiterates over and over the need to serve one's spouse sexually, and which insists that the Bible in no way condemns (and in fact, given Driscoll's interpretation of Song of Solomon, even celebrates) the behavior in question. It takes a fair amount of courage to say, essentially, "I know you really want to do X, and according to this respected pastor, there's nothing wrong with X, but it . . . makes me uncomfortable." (It is worth noting that Driscoll's 'conscience' objection focuses primarily on shame, not on unease or anything else that falls short of actual shame.) It is difficult to deny a loved one's desire based only on what is (at least to Driscoll) an unnecessarily stringent, or even weak, conscience.
While husbands and wives may both find themselves choosing between their consciences and their spouses, I am particularly concerned about the pressure this can place on women. We have been told time and time again that "men have needs" and if those needs aren't met at home, a man will be tempted to look elsewhere. So the question "Do you have a clear conscience about this?" can easily morph into "Are you sure enough about your conscience that you're willing to not do this thing that your husband wants to do, even though your refusal could lead him to seek satisfaction in pornography or even adultery?"
We are inundated with tale after tale of infidelity, and the fear our husbands will seek elsewhere whatever we fail to provide is, sad to say, very, very real. The world tells us marriage is a buyer's market, and we're the goods for sale, so if we want to keep a guy, we'd better put out. For Christians, the Bible's teaching on abstinence restricts the applicability of this principle to the marriage context, but the cultural imprint is still there, and is even echoed by teaching on the importance of sexual availability in marriage as a means of helping husbands resist temptation. And there's certainly some validity to this teaching. But if we're not careful, the loving admonishment of I Corinthians 7:3-5 can become infected by the world's attitude to become a threat hanging over the heads of Christian women: if you want to keep your man, you'd better keep him satisfied.
In light of this cultural (and sinful) bias toward the objectification of women, I think Driscoll would have been much better served to begin this chapter with a more serious treatment of conscience, including the importance of really examining your heart and your Bible and encouraging your spouse to honestly do the same. Driscoll could have provided guidance for asking good questions to really draw out your spouse's beliefs and opinions. He could have encouraged the Christian husband to reaffirm to his wife that she matters more than whatever this thing is, and that she is thus more than free to say no, without negative repercussions. (And vice versa.) As it is, I felt like the chapter endorsed more of a "Hey, honey, can we ____? Driscoll says it's ok" "Well, I suppose..." interchange, which can lead to, well, sexual bullying, even that's not the intent. After all, who wants to be a sexual conscientious objector?
It would be great if all women were confident enough to stick to their guns and hold to their beliefs, and if all men cared more about their wives' consciences than about their own sexual fulfillment. But we live in a fallen world, and I think all too many women are willing to sacrifice their consciences to keep their men; and all too many men are willing to let them. Driscoll had the opportunity to educate both men and women about how to care for each other well in marriage, not out of an attitude of entitlement and self-gratification, but out of loving self-sacrifice. But he didn't.
Granted, that topic could easily be a whole nother book (and honestly, not one I would trust Driscoll to write--a topic that sensitive has Paul David Tripp written all over it). And I know Driscoll wanted to focus on the 'can we or can't we' aspect of things. But still, the reference to conscience was so perfunctory, especially in light of Driscoll's 'do it do it do it' attitude about sex in general, that it seemed like a throwaway. Driscoll would have been better served to take the opportunity to flesh out his 'conscience' section to better protect his sisters in Christ.
(There are also those who question the propriety of the Driscolls' disclosures about their own marital (and sexual) sins, but I can appreciate the attempt to be transparent in confessing sin as a means to encourage the struggling reader, even if I think the execution was misguided.)
At the end of the day, there was some good stuff here, but not enough to make it worth recommending. You're better off reading Paul David Tripp's What Did You Expect? instead.