With the number of marriage books out on the market, both by religious and secular authors, it would make you wonder why anyone would write another one. What more can be said, you might ask. And yet they keep coming. The most recent of best sellers on marriage is by bestselling author and pastor Mark Driscoll and his book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together. When this book first released there were a number of reviews with both positive and negative feedback. In light of that, this review will be short so as not to reiterate the words of others.
To be honest, I have to hand it to the Driscoll’s for writing this book. Though to the chagrin of many, the Driscoll’s open themselves up in this book like few ever do and on a topic as intimate to a marriage as sex. Sex is a hard topic to talk about within Christianity because, as Driscoll would put it, it is viewed as a god, gift or gross. Unfortunately, within evangelicalism, it is predominately viewed as gross.
But Real Marriage is only half about sex. The first half of the book deals with marriage itself from the vantage point of friendship within marriage. The Driscoll’s have chosen this vantage point because, according to them, in all of the marriage books they read, none of them discuss friendship within marriage. Having read a number of marriage books since before I married my wife, I can say that I don’t remember the word friendship mentioned in reference to marriage. However, I did feel that there were a number of aspects mentioned in regards to developing a healthy marriage that were friendship related such as common interests and the like. The five chapters in this first section cover topics that other marriage books do as well. Nevertheless, the intentional focus on friendship within marriage is not covered as much as in Real Marriage. So while the ground covered may not be all too new, casting it under the banner of friendship within marriage is something this book does well.
Returning to sex. The second half of the book deals with a myriad of sex related issues, both previous to and during marriage. There are a ton of recent statistics used here along with reference to relevant psychological data to support the biblical idea that sex outside of marriage is not only harmful to the individual at the time but is harmful to one’s marriage later. To Christians who have grown up in a healthy home and have never had sex outside of marriage there might not be a lot here that is helpful. Reason being, this book seems to be written as a marriage book written to the believer with a messy sexual background or a current marriage with sexual problems stemming from a messy sexual background from one of the spouses. Whether that was the intent or not, this seems best how to take the book in comparison to others that deal with the same subject material but from a different angle.
No doubt, for many, the hardest part of the book to get through is chapter ten, Can We______? In their ministry at their church, the Driscoll’s have been asked a myriad of questions regarding sex, specifically, questions related to what is permissible within marriage. In a genuine effort to provide guidelines for answering these questions, the Driscoll’s have developed a three step question process. The questions are: (Is it lawful?, (2) Is it helpful? and (3) Is it enslaving? At the front, these are good questions to ask of many things that are not directly addressed in Scripture or that are but still are not clear. The hang up I see in this method is that while these are biblical questions to ask, I am not sure they are the only ones to ask of some of the activities in question nor should all of them be asked either. They are not the only ones to ask because the question, “Why do you want to do this activity?,” needs to be asked for some of these and there need to be questions that address the heart of the person asking the question. For other questions, I wonder if one even needs to go beyond the first question, “Is it lawful?” In a way, if the answer to this question is no, then what else is there to ask? Granted, own issues here cold stem from my own assumptions and thoughts about some of the activities asked but I think they are good questions to ask.
To the issue of how much gospel is in this book. If I were to compare this book to others on marriage I would have to say it sits about a 6 on the gospel scale of 1-10. In a generation and decade in which a gospel centered movement has been born (which Driscoll is at minimum related to), no doubt, any book that seeks to address the issues it tackles with the gospel will be rigorously critiqued for how gospel centered or saturated it is. Could the book have been more gospel centered? Probably. Did it have gospel in it? Yes. But I want to judge the book by its intent. This book had a lot of personal material, statistics, cultural commentary and down-right good advice. This is not an excuse to be gospel-less but we need to judge the book by its overall content and aim. It was not a book on the gospel and marriage. Yes, at times I wanted to see more connections to the gospel when there was none or minimal reference.
All in all, this book was fine for what it is seeking to accomplish. I would not recommend it to everyone but I think every pastor needs to have it. I would give it to certain couples who have had a history of sexual problems before marriage. But it would not be the only book on marriage and sex I would have them read. No doubt, this was a hard book to write for both of the Driscoll’s because of the intense personal nature of much of the content. They have spilled their sexual guts (to coin a phrase) for all to see in an effort to help those whose marriages have been harmed and destroyed by sexual abuse and misuse. They have been willing to do for others in this book what many would never do in a private counseling session, let alone in a book which millions of people will read for years to come.
NOTE: I received this book for free in return for a review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.