Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together
High-profile pastor Driscoll and his wife, Grace, have not only pulled back the curtain on the condition of marriage but have opened wide the door to their own home, taking readers into arguments, dating life, mistakes, and healing in their own marriage. While written from a theological point of view, they also did their homework in a wide range of therapeutic marriage books and have done thousands of hours of counseling and teaching marriage seminars along with their regular teaching in their Seattle church, Mars Hill. This is a book about married friendship, sexuality, healing broken marriages, and “reverse engineering” a marriage that will last—beginning with a vision of the end result and working back toward that. It includes no-holds-barred chapters on sex—how Mark held sex as “god” and Grace as “gross” and how they together discovered sex as a “gift” from God. [emphasis added] The Driscolls’ Neo-Reformed views come shining through, with much emphasis on sin’s role in wrecking marriages today and Christ’s role in redeeming them. Taken to heart and put into practice, this boldly refreshing approach can change couples across America by letting God do the changing. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/14/2011
I added a little emphasis so that I can draw your attention back to Peasant Princess, of which this forthcoming book is very probably recycling material from. The Driscolls are gearing up for a book tour to promote the book and Mark is transitioning into, I hear, another 11 week series on marriage.
But in light of years of public remarks by critics who have taken issue with Driscoll's obsession with sex the above blurb suggests that some of those critics should actually go read the Driscolls' book. Why? Well, at the risk of making a guess, what if it turns out that in those "no holds barred" chapters Mark ends up sharing things that prove those critics who said Mark had too much sex on the brain were right?
And the question that rises in light of Driscoll's nearly constant pontification on men and sex from the pulpit that emerges even from a Publisher's Weekly blurb is this--how was Mark Driscoll supposed to have any platform from which to scream at guys for being irresponsible and using women if he himself gave sex a "god" status within his own marriage? Years ago even some Driscoll admirers noted how convenient it was that he "repented" of his sin against Grace being the breadwinner in time to get paid a salary by the church. Couldn't even a person sympathetic toward Mark Driscoll suggest that it's awfully convenient to start talking about his idolatry of sex now that he's had a book deal with Thomas Nelson to write a book about that with his wife Grace? Couldn't even a person entirely sympathetic to Driscoll's ideas, mission, and methods still be left wondering if these cases of confessing sins in time to financially benefit from the "repenting" can come across as both craven and mercenary? If all these years Driscoll was screaming at guys to keep their pants on and not use women he had sex as a god in his own life wouldn't that make him chief among hypocrites?
Even from the most sympathetic reading possible the question emerges, if sex was a god to Mark Driscoll when did he repent of this? How were any of us supposed to ever work out that he somehow repented of this sin if it was even on the radar that he'd made sex a god to begin with? To be sure, countless people have observed Mark has frequently had sex on the brain!
To put this in some local perspective, Dr. Less Parrott, a professor at SPU, has endorsed the book. Let's just say that the little school by the canal and Mars Hill have rarely had a pleasant history together. The Free Methodist Church does ordain women as pastors (last I checked) and differs with Driscoll on quite a few points. So it's "possible" that for an SPU professor, who's a Nazarene pastor and not a Calvinist Baptist in non-denominational hipster garb, to endorse the book means Driscoll's done at little growing up. :)
But even this growing up, if we think about it, invites a revisitation of questions and criticisms Driscoll partisans have been deliberately ignoring over the last decade. Well, not all Driscoll fans ...
Michael Spenser pointed out that Driscoll's casual bit about guys wanting to know how to have sex with their wives everyday was taking things too far at multiple levels. Now, if this Publisher's Weekly blurb may be any indication, Mark Driscoll is now, more than a decade after his first foray into Song of Songs, letting slip that he (for now in some as yet-to-be-designated point in the past) viewed sex as a god.
Now I've read preview/reviews that say that the Driscolls emphasize how important friendship is as a foundation for marriage. This I don't doubt. Yet it seems that in the long run the Driscolls have poured a lot of energy into finding out what friendship is within marriage. Friendship may be the foundation for marriage now but it was not the foundation for marriage in other cultures and times. In other words, it was not necessarily "the" one and "biblical" way that a lot of marriages in the millenia of human experience have been brokered. As Driscoll famously put it when he was counseling a couple about to marry, if they didn't constantly struggle with a desire to get in each other's pants they should NOT MARRY. Now couldn't that have been the point at which actual Catholics, not jack Catholics of the sort Driscoll most likely was, say that concupiscence is not the best foundation for a marriage. :)
If Driscoll's to be consulted as a reference for friendship the 0 through +10 ranking system doesn't fill me with a great deal of confidence that he has actually learned that much about friendship. "Good friend" in Driscollian parlance often still seems to suggest that you've written a book he wants to promote or he's written a book and you've endorsed it. I don't know the whole social circle the Driscolls traffic in (though I've met some former friends of his) but it would seem that friendship can be learned and cultivated in settings outside of marriage which could then permit friendship to be a thing built within the courtship process and cultivated thereafter. But I'm just a single guy and in Martian parlance that means I don't know anything about "relationships" because I apparently haven't said the right words and waved my magic wand. :) The truth is things are not that simple. I know dozens and dozens of couples at Mars Hill who are married and have friendship in marriage and are great friends. The weaknesses of the Driscolls should not be construed as a reflection on the whole group of believers at Mars Hill.
But that doesn't mean that this blurb and the contents it reviews (the Driscolls' book) couldn't be cited as some retroactive confirmation that a certain megachurch pastor had sex so much on the brain he imposed that sexual fixation on Song of Songs to a degree that inspired him to insist on certain things having to mean certain things. Most notoriously Song of Songs 2:3 as about oral sex in Driscoll-land. The apricot tree that is the man
Ariel and Chana Bloch's Song of Songs translation includes a lengthy afterward and commentary on the Hebrew by Robert Alter. In that section he states there is no good case to be made that the hebrew word so popularly touted as a euphmeism for vagina refers to anything other than the navel. The dance of the two companies is not a wifely striptease but a dance in public. The Song of Songs doesn't obsess with naming body parts as particular as the vulva, which is explicitly referred to in poetry in surrounding regions. I'm not going to regale you with that stuff. Go over to Scotteriology to find out how much more explicit things could actually get in near-Eastern poetry using sex as a referent or metaphor. That Mark Driscoll made sex a god could be attested by his cherry-picking of sources and concepts to insist that the navel of Song of Songs has to be the vagina.
If Mark Driscoll is willing to tell the whole English-reading/English-speaking world that will take note that he's made a god of sex at some point in the past (and, we're probably supposed to trust, now no longer makes a god of sex) then, great. This still gives us reason to doubt (if we weren't doubting already!) that when Driscoll went on his quarter year ramble about Song of Songs as just about sex and marriage that he was "just preaching what's in the Bible" that he actually was. Even iMonk pointed out that whatever positive things Driscoll was preaching from the pulpit had nothing much to do with the actual text of Song of Songs. That's from a sympathizer!
To someone who is not already on Driscoll's team this "news" constitutes a confirmation that Mark Driscoll's past (and possibly still present) idolatry of sex vitiates the validity of pretty much anything he says about sex from Song of Songs. This would be for the simple reason that if sex was "a god" to Driscoll then that idolatry tainted the entire process of his interpreting Song of Songs.
Now I've already explained why the Team Pyro fanbase can't cluck too much. The trouble is MacArthur's own marriage-only idiom for Song of Songs differs only in degree and not kind. As Jewish scholarly commentary on Song of Songs has indicated, it's not actually clear that the young woman and man are married. Fornication as such was not in the legal conceptual framework of the Torah. No, really, it wasn't there. It developed as a way of interpreting the case law within the Torah during the intertestamental period. If you go looking for OT passages that discuss fornication you'll be stuck, and then you have to account for how Jesus could refer to fornication without having a clear sense of how this concept developed within Jewish thought. Or at least it will be a lot more mysterious if you don't factor in intertestamental literature and precedent as a basis for the emergence of fornication as a sin that is nowhere mentioned in the Torah. If fundamentalists want to go by a strictly OT approach to sin then, yeah, gays are in trouble but fornicators ... well ... uh, shotgun weddings never really go out of style, do they?
So far any discussion of Real Marriage has been about how bold it is, and the marketing engine certainly bills the book as one that goes where other Christian books dare not go. That's part of the bad-boy marketing spiel Mark has had going for fifteen years now. If anyone were inclined to give the book some less-than-favorable reading then Driscoll fans would not only take issue with that in general but would now factor in Grace as well. After all, she's co-written the book. I wouldn't rule out a ghost-writer for her since she's never had much of a history of writing in the last fifteen years within Mars Hill but ghost-writing is common enough in preacherly circles. The new ballgame if any criticism comes up is that it would not only be bad form to nitpick stuff Mark says but the new book will have a certain womanly protection on it, at the risk of putting this rather bluntly. That won't stop some potential ranting from the Slice of Laodicea crowd, obviously. But, to be fair, wouldn't it seem after all these years that Mark Driscoll may have copped to what those critics have been saying for years?
If Mark Driscoll made a god of sex then all those years he was screaming at young men to get their act together he was making himself the most ostentatious of hypocrites, wasn't he? I mean, this would be true most of all by Driscoll's own public statements. It could, of course, explain how he ever even thought to mention that a lot of pastors' wives really let themselves go. Driscoll used to say that fornicating before marriage caused problems with him and Grace. A relative of mine, who's been married for quite some time, told me the problem with Mark's whole line of reasoning is that it's backwards. Fornication is not the "cause" of a problem in the relationship, it's the symptom. It indicates shortcuts being taken in the relationship that are brought into the marriage. This single guy may retain some doubts that the Driscolls are the best resources to consult about "real friendship" regardless of whether or not their book about "real marriage" happens to be great or terrible. Mark has had all sorts of insights and interesting things to say about a lot of topics in the last fifteen years but friendship has never seemed to be one of his strong points. I'd say you could ask his friends but I don't know if he has any real friends besides the woman who has borne his children. Sorry.
But for me the news that is not being discussed is in a little phrase published by Publisher's Weekly that the rest of the people writing about the book haven't mentioned after reading their advance review copies. I don't know exactly why that is besides that these advance reviews are part of a promotional network. Not a huge surprise. I get that's part of how a person builds press for a book. All the same, I would suggest that people who have defended Driscoll against what they considered "unfair" criticism about Driscoll and sex read Real Marriage, read Driscoll's explanation of how he viewed sex as a god, and then go back and revisit all those past criticisms of Driscoll on sex with a new perspective. Then ask yourself if this raises any questions about Driscoll as a preacher against sexual idolatry and consider what the answers to those questions may be. At least give it a thought.