Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together
Thomas Nelson, 2012
272 pp., $22.99
Susan Wise Bauer
Talking About REAL Marriage
Hard to argue with that. Which is why it has been said before, often, in other nice, sound, thoroughly helpful books on marriage.
And this brings us to the hype. Given that Real Marriage isn't all that different from scores of its predecessors, you might think that Thomas Nelson would have trouble marketing it to readers. You'd be wrong. Apparently, all Christendom is holding its breath in anticipation: "Publishing Industry, Christians Buzzing in Anticipation of Driscoll's Bold Book on Marriage," says the press release that accompanied the book. "One of the most talked-about Christian marriage books in years …. Pastor Mark Driscoll is set to once again send shock waves throughout the evangelical world, confronting head-on and in broad daylight subjects that most would dare only explore behind closed doors—if then."
What are those subjects? The press release lists them. They all have to do with sex. In fact, five of the eleven chapters in Real Marriage deal with sex.
This too is nothing earth-shattering; evangelicals have been talking frankly about sex at least since 1981, when Ed and Gaye Wheat wrote Intended for Pleasure. But Real Marriage promises to push the envelope, particularly in Chapter 10, "Can We _______ ?", which names specific sexual practices and tells you whether or not they are permissible for Christians. "If you are older," the Driscolls warn at the beginning of Chapter 10, "from a highly conservative religious background, live far away from a major city, do not spend much time on the Internet, or do not have cable television, the odds are that you will want to read this chapter while sitting down with the medics ready on speed dial."
It turns out, though, that Chapter 10 isn't all that transgressive. In fact, even those of us who live far away from big cities have apparently figured out not only the basics but most of the major variations. And the recommendations can pretty well be summed up in two phrases: Sure, if you both want to, as long as it doesn't cause a problem. Fair enough, but Ed Wheat, among others, already said it. ("Anything is permissible as long as it is desired by both partners, affords mutual pleasure, and does not offend either partner.")
What Real Marriage has going for it, in the end, is the only thing it doesn't share with scores of other marriage books: Mark Driscoll. Driscoll has preached the book's content, he tells us, in "England, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Australia, India, and Turkey" and has talked personally to "hundreds of thousands of couples." The author's bio reminds us that he is "one of the world's most downloaded and quoted pastors." He pastors the "2nd most-innovative church in America." The hype in the press release isn't, ultimately, about Real Marriage; it's about Mark Driscoll.
The book may be ordinary, but Driscoll is an evangelical celebrity; and celebrities are standouts. As Christopher Bell puts it in American Idolatry, celebrities must be present in our lives, yet remain unattainable. The more like us a celebrity is, the less useful he becomes as a celebrity. The Mark Driscoll of the Thomas Nelson press release—one of the "25 Most Influential Pastors of the Past 25 Years," the man who has "taken biblical Christianity into cultural corners previously unexplored by evangelicals"—is a lot more marketable than Mark Driscoll, the husband who spent the first decades of his marriage screwing up. Mark and Grace Driscoll do a fine job, in Real Marriage, of acknowledging that they struggle just as much as any other couple. But no publicist is going to send out a press release that begins, "Two perfectly ordinary people have some hard-earned wisdom to share with you!"
While I don't want to blame Mark Driscoll for his publisher's press release, his ease with his celebrity is woven into his own work—not just as writer, but as pastor. In Chapter 2, "Men and Marriage," Driscoll exhorts husbands to go and find a church "filled with men you respect, enjoy, and would pursue godly relationships with." For him, this means focusing in on
the preaching pastor, because a man chooses a church not so much because of style or programming but rather because he admires the senior leader and is willing to submit to him, follow him, and emulate him. So husbands must find a church led by a man who believes the Bible, loves Jesus, and leads his home and church as well as a man's man.