Mark Driscoll. Possibly one of the most polarizing public figures in the church right now. Quite frankly, I have very rarely heard anyone speak positively of him. I first heard of him about a year ago (late, I know, as he's been around for awhile) and it was in the context of fairly harsh and sometimes downright nasty criticism. Blog after blog only had horrible things to say about him. Among the people that I know personally, I've heard mixed reviews of him: He has "spiritual Tourette's syndrome", he has no class, he crosses the lines, he says some weird things but is generally solid, some people think he's crass but we think he's funny.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, because I'm about to tell you what I think of the book he and his wife wrote together, Real Marriage:The Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together.
Going into reading this book, I had only negative expectations of a scandalous, inappropriate, unbiblical, terribly written book.
And...I actually really liked it. I'm very surprised, quite frankly. I realize that there are many of you who will completely disagree with me, or who cannot believe that I liked anything by Mark Driscoll, and that's fine. There are, of course, some things sprinkled throughout it that I either don't completely agree with or that were poorly phrased or whatever (and I'm not going to spend time nit-picking about those things), but really, I find that about every book. Here's why I liked it:
It was real.
Mark and Grace begin the book by sharing their marital struggles in a good deal of detail from the fact that they were sexually intimate before marriage, to their anger and frustration towards each other, to their misunderstanding of why each other acted the way they did. They spent many years in an empty and difficult marriage. Grace opens up about her experience of being sexually abused, and describes both how she healed from it, but also how it negative affected their marriage and how they worked through that issue together. Throughout the book, both Mark and Grace confess to the sins that they have contributed to the marriage - bitterness, harshness, coldness, disrespect, unkindness, fear,etc. I think we also have a tendency to think that pastors and their wives are goody-two-shoes who have never really struggled with any significant sins. Their marriages are perfect. Their kids are perfect. Pastors are all loving and kind and pastors' wives are submissive and sickeningly sweet. That bubble has been burst. They are humans who sin and who have to work through marriage issues just like the rest of us.
Dave and I really appreciate authenticity and we especially appreciate when friends feel comfortable sharing their struggles because we then feel like we really know them. I've chosen - with Dave's permission - to share some of the marital struggles that we went to, some of which are very hard to admit. I realize that not everyone is called to open themselves up so vulnerably, but I do believe that God calls certain people to be particularly transparent about certain issues for the purpose of helping others. I've read some honesty in other books, but it generally only goes as deep as "Oh, I was so frustrated with my wife at this time. Look how selfish I was!" I believe that the level of vulnerability displayed in this book is extremely beneficial and needed.
In talking to older women in my church about the generation gap that we're working on bridging, one woman observed that my generation really desires authenticity and relevancy. I completely agree. There really is a difference between what the older generation feels is an appropriate level of sharing and what the younger generation appreciates. Today with all the blogging and social media, we younger people tend to let it all hang out for everyone to see where the older people tend to be more discreet when sharing. I have a tendency to believe that both generations are falling towards the extreme ends of a continuum; we share too much and maybe the older people share too little. Somewhere in there is a balance between discretion and openness.
Do the Driscolls overshare? For the most part, I think that can only be determined by what they felt God was calling them to share for the benefit of others. If they stuck to what God wanted them to share, then they're fine. If they chose to ignore God's leading and go for shock value, then obviously they are wrong. But there isn't any way for me to know that. I really wasn't uncomfortable with what they shared, but that could be because my husband and I are pretty willing to share on the same level.
Many people have criticized this transparent aspect of the book, saying that Mark places too much blame on Grace for their marriage problems, only gives lip service to a few of his own issues and disgracefully shares too much about Grace's struggles. Initially, I agreed with that criticism, but once I kept reading through the book, I thought differently. First of all, this is their marriage. They've been through much counseling and I don't know why anyone else gets to say who was "the most" wrong in their situation. I think it rubs people the wrong way because he's a man talking about a woman's negative contributions. If Grace had done the same thing, and talked a good deal about how serious Mark's contribution to the marriage problems were, I don't think anyone would bat an eye. We're used to thinking that men are the offending party in marital strife. Secondly, Grace also puts a lot of the blame for specific issues on herself. It isn't just him. Thirdly, throughout the book Mark repeatedly acknowledges very significant contributions to their struggles (anger, harshness, lack of compassion, seeing her as his enemy, putting high expectations on her, selfishness, etc) and Grace also points out what she felt he did wrong. Not to mention that they did write this book together, which leads one to believe that anything shared within the book was the choice of both of them.
It hits all the hot topics.
Honestly, the book isn't entirely cohesive. It does kind of jump around from topic to topic with very few (if any) transitions. Their marriage story. Cultivate friendship in marriage. Men - stop being irresponsible and chauvinistic. Women - be respectful. Forgive. Repent. Don't be bitter. Sexual abuse. Pornography. What's your view of sex? Are you a selfish lover? What are Christians allowed to do sexually?
It's like a crash course in all the big issues that affect marriages. Bam, bam, bam! They just hit one right after the other. Everything they talk about are things that I have seen be the biggest problems in the marriages that I know about or have heard about through this blog and others. Many of the topics they hone in on are not addressed frequently or well in other marriage books. For example, the Driscolls write about how, after reading 187 marriage books, they found not one that significantly addressed friendship within marriage. I loved how they took all the Scriptures on friendship and relationships in general and apply them to our marriage relationship. There are so few resources on sexual abuse and how to heal from it, but Grace discusses her experience in detail. Despite the rampant use of pornography among church-going men, it is rarely directly addressed within Christian circles.
Ok, so those are the two main things I appreciated about the book. If you've heard anything about this book, it's almost certainly the fact that the very last chapter in the book is entitled, "Can We _____?" This chapter answers the questions that Mark and Grace have received from counselees and people they've met at conferences regarding what are and are not acceptable sexual practices for Christians. It merits a post all its own. Stay tuned.
Read Part Two: THE Most Scandalous Chapter on Marriage
Sharing with: Wifey Wednesday, We Are THAT Family, Deep Roots at Home, Women Living Well, A Wise Woman Builds Her Home, Rediscovering Domesticity, Thought Provoking Thursday, Thoughtful Thursday, Hearts for Home Thursday, Beautiful Thursdays, NOBH