Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll is now available (and was the number one book on Amazon.com on January 2, even!)—and already the controversy has started, particularly if you’ve seen some of the comments offered in response to my generally positive review of the book (particularly the TGC edition) and those to Tim Challies’ overall negative review.
Reading the book, I knew that Real Marriage was going to be divisive. I just wasn’t sure to what degree. As I feared, the chapter on sex questions is at the center, although Tim brings up an important question in his review—is this book gospel-centered?
While Tim says no… I’m not so sure. So I decided to look again.
In re-reading, I’ve noticed that the Driscolls do not explicitly dig into the mystery of marriage—that is, they don’t build an overall framework for their theology of marriage before delving into the implications and applications of that framework. (One could argue that chapter two serves to do this, but only on a horizontal level. It doesn’t sufficiently address the relationship between the gospel and marriage found in Ephesians 5:22-25).
For many, this will be seen as a critical weakness, where others might point out that there are other books that do deal with this subject head on that might serve to reinforce and/or complement the strengths of this one (such as, I suspect, Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage). Personally, I would have preferred them set aside the space to actually build the theology of marriage beforehand as it would have greatly strengthened the book and made each chapter feel integral to the next. Indeed, structure is probably the greatest weakness of the book from a strictly technical perspective (but perhaps that’s a subject best left for a different time…).
Moving from style to content, does this mean that the framework doesn’t exist? As I re-read chapters 3-5 tonight, I’d have to say that that the gospel is certainly central to their application points on a husband and wife’s relationship.
For example, in chapter three, “Men and Marriage,” they write:
This is what the Bible means when it says that a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. It means that he lovingly, humbly, and sacrificially leads by being a blessing and taking responsibility not only for himself but also for others—beginning with his wife.
Again, looking at the same chapter (just a few sentences prior to the previous reference):
The key to understanding masculinity is Jesus Christ. Jesus was tough with religious blockheads, false teachers, the proud, and bullies. Jesus was tender with women, children, and those who were suffering or humble. Additionally, Jesus took responsibility for Himself. He worked a job for the first thirty years of His life, swinging a hammer as a carpenter. He also took responsibility for us on the cross, where He substituted Himself and died in our place for our sins. My sins are my fault, not Jesus’ fault, but Jesus has made them His responsibility. This is the essence of the gospel, the “good news.” If you understand this, it will change how you view masculinity.
These represent two decent application points of the gospel to masculinity and marriage. And the gospel is definitely present there as they show how Jesus perfectly fulfilled the role of man on behalf of every man who has failed to do so (that would be all of us, by the way), by taking “responsibility for us on the cross, where He substituted Himself and died in our place for our sins.” Is there more that could be said? Absolutely. But I’m not sure it’s fair to say that it’s not present.
In chapter four, “The Respectful Wife,” they write:
For women, the key to growing in respectful submission is to look to Jesus Christ. In the very nature of the trinitarian God of the Bible there is functional submission through what is called “ontological equality.” What this means is that although the Father, Son, and Spirit are different persons, they are also equal and one while practicing submission. Similarly, a husband and wife are equal and one while practicing submission. For example, more than forty times in John’s gospel alone, we learn that God the Father sent God the Son to earth. And while on the earth, Jesus practiced submission by teaching us to pray, “Your will be done” and Himself praying, “not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus also said that while on earth He only did what the Father told Him to do and said what the Father told Him to say. Jesus said this was because “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” Importantly, Jesus’ submission was both emotional and vocal. He said what He felt, as when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. This means that a woman can simultaneously be respectfully submissive and vocally honest with both her husband and God about how she’s feeling.
This is perhaps the closest they come in my reading to digging into the mystery of marriage’s relationship to the gospel and they do it by describing the relationship between the Trinity. This is a pretty good approach, one rooted in our being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and in the way God has intended relationships between men and women to function (cf. Gen. 2:18-25). Again is there more that could be said? Sure. But I think it’s fair to say that this view of marital submission is rooted in the gospel.
Finally, in chapter five, “Taking Out the Trash,” they explain that in relational conflict, “Sin is the problem. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer.” They continue:
Jesus never sinned, and so He never repented. But unlike Jesus, we sin all the time. Therefore, we need to repent often. Repentance is a favorite word of God’s prophets throughout the Bible, including Jesus’ cousin John the Baptizer and even Jesus Christ Himself. Because Jesus died for our sin, we can put our sin to death by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is repentance. We can kill our sin, or sin will kill our marriages. Those are the only options.
And one more:
Forgiveness is a gospel issue. In our hurt and woundedness, we can lose sight of the truth that no one has been sinned against more than God. No one has been more wounded, grieved, hurt, betrayed, and mistreated than God. Furthermore, we each have contributed to the pain that God experiences, as all sin is ultimately against God. This means that God could be the most embittered person.
Instead, He came as Jesus and took our place to suffer for our sins, pronouncing forgiveness from the cross.
Therefore, our forgiveness of our spouses has very little, if anything, to do with them. Instead, it has everything to do with God. As an act of worship, we must respond to our sinful spouses as God has responded to our sin—with forgiveness—because it is a gospel issue. We cannot accept forgiveness from God without extending it to our spouses.
Here we can see the Driscolls again applying the gospel to the problems that arise whenever two sinners get married. By virtue of the fact that we are sinners, the married life is one of continual repentance—thus, we are in dire need of Jesus’ finished work on our behalf. And they do a very good job of addressing this throughout the chapter.
None of this changes my concerns from my original review, particularly regarding chapter 10’s reductionistic approach to Scripture. I think it bears repeating that the good parts of Real Marriage are really good, just as the bad parts are really bad. And again, this is not a book that I’d recommend to everyone, but for the first half of the book at the very least, readers are provided advice and insights that keep the gospel central. As for the rest, that’s certainly open for debate.