Book Review: Real Marriage

Anytime you read or listen to anything from Mark Driscoll, you know he is going to be candid. Sometimes that candor is welcome—he is unafraid of naming and dealing with elephants in the room. Sometimes that candor is less than welcome—I admit to having cringed at several of the things he has said during his career as pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

Real Marriage, which Mark co-write with his wife Grace, has all of the candor you would expect from Driscoll. They share frankly about their own marriage history, and this vulnerability shows that they are not perfect, but have had to grow in love and friendship over the years. Five of the eleven chapters have to do with sex, and the chapter entitled “Can We _____?” deals with the Driscolls’ opinion on whether certain sexual acts are permissible for married couples. In spite of the interest that chapter has created, I thought two of the other sex chapters (those on sexual abuse and pornography) were two of the stronger chapters of the book.

The Driscolls have a complementarian marriage, and this book will resonate most with those who have a similar perspective. They write that the husband is to be the “primary if not the sole breadwinner” (61). However, there is a lot of advice that even non-complementarians can agree with. Concerning responsibilities, they write that “whoever is best at something and is willing to do it assumes that responsibility” (56). The Driscolls don’t talk about whether it is possible for the wife to be best at making money, or the husband at raising children.

Driscoll’s great strength as a Bible teacher is bridging the gap between the world of the Bible and the modern world. He makes the Bible come alive to his contemporary hearers. Sometimes, however, this impulse toward making the Bible come alive leads him and Grace onto shaky exegetical ground. For example, in saying that a married couple is supposed to sleep in the same bed, they quote Hebrews 13:4, saying it “speaks of ‘the marriage bed’ and not ‘beds'” (167). But in Hebrews 13:4, “marriage bed” is a metonymy for the marriage relationship. They also write, describing ancient interpretation of the Song of Songs, “Until around AD 100, the Jewish rabbis interpreted the Song of Songs in a literal way…. The Song of Songs was read at the Passover liturgy, and the songs were often sung in the pubs to celebrate marital love and intimacy within a covenant relationship” (117). I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate to speak of ancient Israel as having pubs.

In the end, I can only halfheartedly recommend this book. There are passages that contain wonderfully good advice—I particularly enjoyed their chapter on friendship—but it is just too uneven. Readers of this book would do well to combine it with other marriage books (I have not yet read Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, but it seems like a good option), and seek out a more experienced, godly married couple to learn from.