By Sharifa Stevens
Mark and Grace Driscoll have written a book on marriage, sex, and friendship with your spouse. It’s spicy. No stranger to controversy, Mark Driscoll has received rabid criticism from other theologically conservative Christians for his NC-17 discussions of sexuality. He’s even inferred that marriages would be stronger if wives gave more oral sex.
Thankfully, I knew nothing of the controversy when I read Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together. The Driscolls write that they intend to “share biblical truths about some of the marital issues you may face, including how to be your spouse’s best friend, dealing with porn addiction, overcoming sexual assault, how to avoid being a selfish lover, and yes, even those sex questions you’d be too embarrassed to ask anyone, especially your pastor.”
They do delve headlong into matters of friendship and sex, and include their own history for examples.I especially appreciated a frank, real, earthy discussion about sexuality for a change. The way we Christians talk about sex, one would think it was a sinful effect of the Fall rather than a God-ordained blessing. I was really impressed with how willing Grace and Mark were to respond frankly and unflinchingly to sex questions.
In Real Marriage, Mark recalls the moment when the Lord spoke to him during a walk in the Idaho woods. “God told me to devote my life to four things. He told me to marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men, and plant churches.”
And so he did. In 1996, Driscoll and his wife began a Bible study in their home, which has proliferated into a church with upwards of 19,000 members and 13 satellite locations. A mega-church in the Bible Belt is not uncommon, but a mega-church in Seattle, Washington, smack-dab in the middle of the least-churched region of the United States? Phenomenal. The bio on his website testifies to his strength of influence: “His audience—fans and critics alike—spans the theological and cultural left and right. He was also named one of the ‘25 Most Influential Pastors of the Past 25 Years’ by Preaching magazine, and his sermons are consistently #1 on iTunes each week for Religion & Spirituality with millions of downloads each year.”
There are parts of the book that make me cheer. Real Marriage has some great strong points. My favorite metaphor from the entire book is: “Men are like trucks—they drive smoother and straighter with a load…So load yourself up. Take responsibility for yourself. Take responsibility for your wife (and children if or when you have them)…Real men don’t look for other men, organizations, and governments to carry their load. Real men carry their own load.”
Amen! Way to challenge men to put down the PS3, get a job (and keep it), and grow a drive and passion that has deep roots in God, family, and the world around him. Now that’s an ideal taken straight from the Creation story.
The chapter on the reality of pornography is gripping, unflinchingly honest, and convicting. There is such a potent balance of neurological data, statistics, and the call to holiness in the chapter that it’s a punch to the gut. We are a generation slogging through the morass of hyper-sexualization. It’s changing the way we view men and women, and setting up unrealistic, selfish expectations.
Then there’s the infamous Chapter 10, the chapter titled “Can We ________ ?” It goes there--anal sex, oral sex, birth control, masturbation--it’s all fair game. They respond to each question of “Can we?” by asking and answering three clarifying questions: Is it lawful? Is it helpful? Is it enslaving? It’s a wise way to evaluate each topic with a Biblical grid based on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23.
I was excited to read a book that both a man and woman wrote on sex and marriage. I longed to read about the balance of oneness; there is already so much material written by one author to one segment of the Body.
As I read the book, however, I observed a splintering: The authors seemed to be talking to men and at women, starting with Grace. Many times I wanted to jump up, find a blanket, and cover Grace with it. Here’s why:
● Although he and his wife both had sexual histories before marriage, Mark recounts stories of shielding sorority girls from being used and minimizes his sexual past, while Grace recounts her sexual past with an air of heaviness and shame. It paints a double standard of promiscuity that condemns the woman but not the man.
● There was one sexual exploit (which is not recounted in detail) that was so sinful, Mark says he wouldn’t have married Grace had he known about it before their marriage. It made me wonder whether Mark thought his sins were somehow less sinful than Grace’s.
● One example given of lack of intimacy in marriage was Grace’s choice to get a “mom cut” rather than wear her hair in a style that pleased Mark. Ouch.
The portions of the book penned by Grace could have used the discerning eye of both a theologian and an editor. There’s a marked difference in tone and polish between her sections and Mark’s. For example, Mark Driscoll graduated from seminary with a degree in exegetical theology but apparently gave no counsel to Grace’s deeply flawed exposition of the book of Esther. She writes: “Amazingly, when [Esther] had an extremely urgent request, she respectfully waited outside his room to be heard. She didn’t barge in and demand that he do what she wanted…Her example illustrates the repeated command across all Scripture that wives respectfully submit to their husbands, and it removes any excuse we have for disrespecting our husbands.”
When I read this, I wanted to run and get that blanket again.
Esther as an example of respectful submission? Really? Let me be clear: My issue is not that wives should respect their husbands, and I am not looking for an excuse or permission to disrespect mine. But...really?
When we go back to the book of Esther, we see that...
● Esther began her marriage to King Ahasuerus by being a part of a harem.
● Ahasuerus divorced his wife Vashti for her refusal to parade around (naked, according to the Aramaic translations/commentaries of the Old Testament) for the pleasure of a bunch of drunk, debaucherous men. Should women submit to that?
● Esther was one of many, many women whom the king slept with in order to find his next queen. Should I be following that example, too?
● Last, Esther boldly barged into the king’s inner court--on pain of death (Esther 4:11)--rather than wait to be summoned.
No wonder Esther says, “If I perish, I perish!” Esther did exactly the opposite of what Grace Driscoll describes as “patient” submission. She didn’t wait outside the king’s room; she busted in! Why? Because Esther--like Deborah, Jael, Rahab, Tamar, and Mary--was a rebel. Submission to God for the service of God’s people may not look as neat and tidy as we’d like. It may take on the form of perceived rebellion instead of predictable, formulaic generalities. That kind of submission got Esther into the king’s court, and that’s what got Jesus assassinated.
It’s irresponsible to cram Esther’s story into the supposed Universal Truth of Submission argument. It whitewashes the force of the narrative and diminishes the sacredness and complexity of submission.
And, speaking of submission and authority again, Mark’s chapter on men and marriage is heavy on the authority of men, but light on exegetical foundation. Mark says that men are covenant heads of their family--who have been tasked to protect and keep their covenant with God--since before the Fall. He cites that humanity is called “man” or “mankind” as part of his evidence, and ignores the fact that God refers to “mankind” as male and female.
If mankind could actually keep a covenant, we wouldn’t need a Savior. We ate the forbidden fruit. We provoked a flood as punishment for our errancy. We looked for ways to make our own heirs. We got ourselves enslaved. We built a golden calf and complained about manna. We selected our own king instead of God. We divided our kingdom. We worshiped other gods. Frankly, Mark’s view of humanity in general and men specifically is puffed up.
Last, in the “Men and Marriage” chapter, Mark cites Adam’s naming of Eve in Genesis 2:23 for partial support of his covenant-head theory. Truth is, Adam didn’t name Eve until after the Fall, perhaps as the first illustration of the fallen state of the marital relationship. Rather, in Genesis 2, Adam is head-over-heels excited to have met his counterpart.
Grace mirrors Mark’s limited view of the roles of Adam and Eve in creation in her chapter on wives. In contrast to Mark’s chapter, titled “Men and Marriage,” Grace’s is called “The Respectful Wife.”
Women are boiled down to one attribute (respectfulness) and one role (wife), while men aren’t even identified specifically as husbands or characterized by love. Interesting.
Toward the beginning of her chapter, Grace says, “God created the woman to help and respect her husband, and when she doesn’t do that in a holy way, she is sinning.” The chapter expounds on the word “respect” as the single most important attribute of a wife, but only lightly touches on the word “helper,” the only title actually used for Eve in Genesis 2.
I wish that she had camped out more on the word “helper” in order to protect women from the fallacy of subservience and insignificance (gaining significance and mission from a man and not God is also sin). A “helper” is not a Stepford wife; that’s a sociological construct, not a Biblical one. The Hebrew word for “helper” is ezer, a word used several times in the Old Testament to describe God as the deliverer of His people. The old folks at church would say it like this: “He made a way out of no way.” An ezer is someone who can do for you that which you simply cannot do for yourself. An ezer is a rescuer and a fighter. It is a powerful definition, and only once is it used to describe a human being--Eve. What a different connotation this has for the marriage relationship. This powerful woman can not only make your dinner and satisfy you in bed, but she is warring for you in Jesus’ name, and encouraging you to be all that God wants you to be.
Here is a passage that I wish Mark and Grace had written about in speaking of the pre-Fall desire of God for Adam and Eve:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, NASB)
But, they didn’t, even though this direct statement of God is the foundation of His purposes for the first couple in a perfect heaven and earth.
You may be a complementarian about the roles of men and women in Christian marriage, you may be egalitarian--or you may be, like me, confused and undecided. In any case, if you are teaching, if you are leading, and if you are thinking, do your homework. Mark is a pastor to men. It grieves me that he would make half-baked assertions that will strongly influence many households.
Read this book with a blanket, to cover chauvinism, bad writing, forced examples. And know that God will still work through it, with gems of truth that clearly come from Him, through two people who, though flawed, obviously seek to follow and serve the Lord and His people.
Sharifa Stevens is a wife and mother, singer, and writer. She earned a B.A. from Columbia University in New York and a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She lives in Dallas.