So perhaps you have heard or maybe not, but there has been quite a controversy in the last few days over the new Christian marriage book, “Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship & Life Together” by Pastor Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace. The book was just released last Tuesday, but is already sitting atop the major best seller lists.
Ok, what topic can be so controversial as to propel a book to best seller status in less than a week? Well, I already told you it is a Christian marriage book, which can at times be controversial, but that is not it. The only thing that gets that kind of interest is – sex. Real Marriage is the Driscoll’s unvarnished account of their road to friendship, married life and sex. This is just not the stuff that Christians are used to hearing from a Pastor. But, I believe that is the point, this book is a taboo busting read. And the discomfort that readers and the long list of critics have to tend with, is whether or not to digest the level of detail regarding the sex lives of Christians that Real Marriage offers.
When I saw a CNN.com piece on the firestorm on Friday, the comments were just harsh and I felt for Pastor Mark and his wife. But I thought their expressed desire to expose taboo’s within the church were valuable and unprecedented – in today’s church. So I wanted to check it out for myself and I immediately bought the book, pushed aside my entire weekend calendar and got to reading.
So here is what I say after spending the last 3 days reading all 261 pages of the Driscoll’s book about: Sex, Friendship and Life Together. This book deserves both, all of the praise and some of the criticism is has received.
First of all, it is not a tacky account of the sex life of a Pastor and his wife as I was led to expect. Rather it is real, honest, frank conversation that is more statistical, empirical, and general than specific revelations about the Driscoll’s. For example, their presentation of what happens when a person, especially a young person, is exposed to pornography is an absolutely essential understanding to have – both for ministry and personally.
I found it fascinating to learn what happens chemically, emotionally and spiritually, in a persons brain when exposed to pornography. We all come in contact with images that are objectionable, you don’t have to seek it, just drive down the street or turn on the tv. So being educated about the chemical and physical reactions to images we exposed to is pretty important.
Secondly, In my opinion, Chapter 2, Friend With Benefits, could be a stand alone best seller. As stated in the book, there is just not enough focus on the value of friendship in the Christian Marriage education realm. The crux of the chapter was that whatever problems a marriage faces the starting point of turning things around is through better friendship. Major, major stuff there. By the end of chapter 2, I had real tangible insight into how to be a better friend with my wife. What was so profound was that it did not just lay out what needed to happen but how to start to do it – and it worked.
The Not So Good
Okay, as much as I loved Chapters one, two, and eight, I struggled to read much of the other eleven chapters. I will leave the heavy criticism to others that do a pretty good job to outline the issues of Real Marriage. However, the two biggest concerns for me are:
- The use of Scripture to say things and support things that don’t appear to be in the Word.
- The use of the Bible to support specific sex acts – and they walk through all of them. I kept checking my i.d. to make sure I was old enough to read this stuff.
For example, does 1 Corinthians 6 really serve to give us an up or down vote of various sex acts? I don’t think so. As others have pointed out, the use of this Scripture is stretched to deal with things it probably was not intended to deal with.
I think this book is a tough read for most Christians and it is probably dangerous for general consumption. It feels like it should be a conversation for professional counselors and marriage educators to share with others and administered with discretion. We are all at such different points of our walk and not everyone can handle talking about “sex toys” and different sex acts through the lens of Scripture. What happens to the new Christian that reads that God through the Bible ordains the very sexual practices they struggle with?
On the other hand, I applaud Pastor Mark Driscoll and Grace for stepping out and allowing themselves and their views to be criticized and picked apart by people they will never meet. Imagine the courage to tell your friends about tough stuff in your sex life, let alone publicize it for all of us. And although there are parts of the discussion that I don’t agree with, it is a conversation we need to have – in the church. I don’t imagine that the number of people struggling with past sexual abuse, estrangement from a father, shame, pornography or relationship boundaries in Pastor Driscoll’s church in Seattle are any different than in any other church throughout the world. So we all need to engage in this discussion.
I think of a conversation I had with a woman this summer after I spoke at a conference in New Mexico. She shared with me, how her church did not have a marriage ministry at all because her Pastor felt he did not trust anyone to broach sexual matters biblically. Yet he felt that exposing that side of himself would diminish his ability to “pastor”. What happens to those that really need an outlet to talk about what they have experienced. So the real blessing of this book is the mature discussion it creates.
- Is it enough to say that God gives us liberty to do all things, or are there clear boundaries that need to be maintained within the church when it comes to sex? How much do you want to know about your Pastor?
- Does the “church” serve your needs when it comes to matters of intimacy?
- What does your church do that works, when it comes to Christian intimacy – between a husband and wife?