The book is divided into three sections (really two). One section on marriage that covers the first five chapters. This section chronicles some of the Driscoll’s story and also has a chapter each devoted to men and to women. Chapter 5 is given to the necessity of forgiveness. The second section, and probably the most controversial, deal with sex. First the Driscoll’s attempt to establish a theology of sex, then for a few chapters they tackle tough issues like abuse, pornography, and selfishness. Chapter 10 is perhaps the most controversial as it is the “Can We ____?” chapter. The last section/chapter is a helpful tip for reverse-engineering your marriage. There are also 5 appendices in some versions of the book.
A good friend asked me if I liked the book. My response was simple. I like the book about as much as a thirsty man that just drank out of a toilet only to realize that there was a refreshingly (not to mention clean) glass of water right next to him.
Let me explain.
Just like a thirsty man would have his thirst satiated by drinking toilet water, there are things in Real Marriage that may actually benefit your marriage. (see Aaron Armstrong’s review for some of the good things in the book). The only problem with drinking out of the toilet---wait, one of the problems with drinking out of the toilet—is that there is a pretty good chance you are going to get some sort of unhelpful bacteria that will make you sick. You may even get away with it—but at the end of the day there is a reason that we usually relieve ourselves in a different location than we do our dishes or give our kids drinks of water.
My response to my friend is only good if Driscoll’s book can actually be compared to drinking from a toilet. There are a few places in the book that I would liken more to dropping an awesome donut on the floor, picking it back up and eating it. Yeah, it’s probably not the best but it’s not a huge deal. Love can cover over a multitude of sins. But there are at least four spots that I would compare to drinking from a toilet.
First, feel free to call me a prude or someone that is stuck in Victorian England. I can take it. But there were places in the book that I would not feel comfortable reading to members in our congregation. There are even places I would not feel comfortable reading to my wife. There are words and phrases in this book that are so blunt and juvenile that I hadn’t heard them since junior high. Maybe I need to get out more and rub shoulders with more lost people, but I don’t really expect to feel dirty reading a book written by a pastor. The fact that I’m not quoting any of these is evidence to my point.
Secondly, I will reference what I will call “the haircut comment”. On page 109 Driscoll helpfully says this, “one of our culture’s powerful lies—fueled by pornography, sinful lust, and marketing—is that having a standard of beauty is in any way holy or helpful”. This seems to contradict Driscoll’s earlier remarks concerning his own wife:
In this season we shifted into ministry-and-family mode, neglecting our intimacy and failing to work through our issues. This became apparent to me when my pregnant wife came home from a hair appointment with her previously long hair (that I loved) chopped off and replaced with a short, mommish haircut. She asked what I thought, and could tell from the look on my face. She had put a mom’s need for convenience before being a wife. She wept. (11)This is one example of several that highlights what seems to be a lack of tenderness towards Driscoll’s wife. I could just be wrongly sensitive to things that others are not. But it seems to me that Mark’s bluntness with men is sometimes even present in his relationship with his wife. I could be wrong about this and will welcome any correction.
I mention the “haircut comment” only to say that if I (or other men) began treating their wives with what seems to be a lack of tenderness then I don’t think marriages will be benefited.
Thirdly, the book is extremely practical. In fact it is often too practical or perhaps pragmatic may be the better word. What ends up happening is that rather than applying principles and general concepts that can apply to all marriages this book ends up almost doling out a new law.
Take chapter 10 as an example. On page 101 the Driscoll’s decide not to share specific examples of redemptive stories. Instead they say, “We are hoping that rather than admiring another couple’s redemptive story you will make your own by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s power.” My thought with this was simple; why didn’t you do this in chapter 10?
In Chapter 10 they provide what some may consider a helpful way of thinking through “Can we ____” type of questions. Personally, I even question the wisdom of the grid they apply—but that is another topic altogether. So, let’s just say for the sake of argument that their grid is immensely helpful. What we do not need then is to take a bunch of practices through this grid to see it in play. Because what it ends up happening is that the readers are no longer applying an “is it beneficial” grid to their own marriage but instead they are being influenced by the Driscoll’s opinion. It’s like laying down a new law with Driscoll being Moses and saying—these things are okay. It seems to undercut what they were attempting to do.
The marriage books that I have found most helpful are the ones that deal with big picture, gospel meta-narrative, idol-exposing, universal type principles that all of humanity deals with. I have the Holy Spirit. I can make personal application on my own. I do not need a detailed description of ________ to determine whether that would be beneficial to my marriage.
That’s not to say that marriage books shouldn’t be practical and only pie-in-the sky. But that does mean that it is counterproductive to answer these “Can we ____” questions with specifics.
Fourthly, this book is mostly unnecessary. The main reason why I am not suggesting this book is because the positives—and as I mentioned earlier there are some helpful things—are not unique to this book. You can find the positives elsewhere without having to endure the graphic and juvenile nature of this book. It’s not blunt it’s vulgar and unnecessarily so.
Go elsewhere. I appreciate much that Mark Driscoll has done in the kingdom of Christ. I appreciate that he preaches the gospel. I appreciate a good amount of his theology. But I do not appreciate this book. I think it causes an unnecessary distraction. I do not see this book as really applying the gospel (marriage as a picture of the gospel seems to take the back seat to pleasurable sex). I’m saddened that those that dislike Driscoll will have lots of fodder for their down with Pastor Mark cannons.
But mostly I’m saddened that I cannot suggest this book. I love Driscoll’s openness (to a degree) and their honesty. I love that they share their brokenness. I love their points of confession. I actually thought chapter 3 was very helpful. There are some things that I genuinely like about this book. And I know that Driscoll understands the gospel and knows how to apply it in very helpful ways. I just wish that a marriage book was one of those.
Steer clear. I’d suggest Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. Paul Tripp’s What Did You Expect. Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say I Do. Tim Challies Sexual Detox. Redemption by Mike Wilkerson or Rid of My Disgrace by the Holcomb’s. Read only one of these and you find far more benefit.