Is “Real Marriage” Really Helpful?

Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll hit the shelves in 2012, and brought with it much controversy. While applauded for their openness and honesty, the Driscolls were also criticized for their lack of gospel focus and poor Biblical exegesis.

I avoided this book for a while, even though I had a copy on my shelves. But last year, I realized that it had been years since I read a book on marriage, and I decided to give it a shot.

My conclusion: I’m glad I read it, but only for about two or three chapters worth. Overall, the book feels disjointed, especially among its three parts: 1) Marriage, 2) Sex, and 3) The Last Day. Instead of a book, parts 1 and 3 seem better suited to be condensed into weekend marriage retreat, while the second part should be reserved for private counselling.

Although I won’t recommend this book as a whole, readers will find some helpful principles to find healing and joy and purpose in their marriages.Mark-and-Grace_2014

 Why REAL Marriage is Useful

To be fair, the Driscolls instruct the reader to “take whatever gifts you find in this book, and feel free to leave the rest.” And that’s exactly what we should do.

For me, the most helpful sections are chapters 2 (Friend with Benefits) and 3 (Men and Marriage). Before reading chapter 2, I never thought about the importance of simply being friends with my wife. I heard similar teaching from others, and I picked up on the hints from my wife, but Driscoll clearly counsels, “It is easier for a woman to think of doing life with a friend that with a dictator or unemotional ruler” (p. 25), and “For a husband to build a friendship with his wife requires him growing in face-to-face skills” (p. 33).

Then in chapter 3, he gives a solid Biblical foundation for manhood, that we are called to be both tough and tender, and to be producers instead of consumers. He outlines some very practical ways for a man to grow as disciple of Christ and to lead his family spiritually.

A different reader will find other chapters to be more helpful. A wife may get more out of chapter 4 (The Respectful Wife). Someone who has been taught, intentionally or unintentionally, an unbiblical view of sex should read chapter 6 (Sex: God, Gross, or Gift). And anyone who has a history with sexual abuse or pornography should read chapter 7 or 8, respectively.

But, as a warning and reminder, no matter what you read, be sure to examine it through the lens of Scripture. It is not uncommon for counsellors (including writers and bloggers like me) to refer to experience more than the Bible.

And that brings me to the thought of why this book is not helpful.

Why REAL Marriage is Not Useful

For the Driscolls, every word in this book stems from their years of counselling and seeing marriages crumble. That perspective is helpful for us, lest we become critical of their abrasive and disjointed writing style. They are passionate about trying to answer marriage questions for people, especially for those with unchurched backgrounds (their primary cultural context).

However, their passion comes across as panic. With more emphasis on how the gospel applies to marriage, and perhaps with a better editor, this book would have been filled with more wisdom and biblical direction.

If you read lot of books, you may find it worthwhile to read this book, and pull out a few applications for your marriage. However, if you have a narrow time margin for reading, I would recommend you reading What Did You Expect?? (Paul Tripp), or any other of these gospel-centered marriage books.

This is a guest post from our friend Joey Espinosa, read more at Just Kind Humble.