Putting “Mark Driscoll” and “sex” together in the same blog post is like using a blowtorch to open a loaded propane tank:  the probability of the resulting explosion is somewhere in the neighborhood of one.

But you know you’ve really done it when no one can agree on which critique of you is best.  Susan Wise Bauer mostly shrugged her shoulders, while this fellow thinks it might be a “new low for Christian marriage books” that reduces women to sex objects.  And that’s not even the critiques from those who are friendly, like Tim Challies and Aaron Armstrong!

The chatter has, I confess, taken me by surprise.  There’s not a whole lot in Real Marriage that is particularly new for anyone who is familiar with Pastor Mark’s teaching on the matter.  It’s unabashedly complementarian, and his by now infamous “Can we ___________” doubles down on the candor mixed with conscience that drives his little book Porn Again Christian (a similarly provocative, similarly dissatisfying little book for reasons I’ll get to in the second part of this rather ungainly review).

The real news is that Pastor Mark and his wife share their rather troubled history, and it’s this chapter that has evoked much of the response.   The passage in which Mark relates his experience learning his wife had cheated on him before they were married has particularly stirred people up:

Grace started weeping and trying to apologize for lying to me, but I honestly don’t remember the details of the conversation, as I was shell-shocked. Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her.”

This is problematic on the face of it.  As Christians who believe in forgiveness for infidelity and for everything else, the visceral gut reaction is not the right one.  But it’s a bit unfair to conclude from it that Driscoll also thinks it was the right response. After all, historical narrative is just that, and he’ll go on to write that “In idolizing marriage, I ended up demonizing Grace and doubting God.”  This is the peculiarly Christian form of writing known as “confession,” and it goes all the way back to Augustine–though given his reputation on matters sexual and marital, the comparison might be less flattering than it sounds.

A minor point, perhaps, and I’ve no plans to go about defending Driscoll against all his critics.  The day has only so many hours, after all, and he’s taken his broadsides.  My only point is that misogyny is a serious charge, and one that ought be executed with care.  It’s easy to let the passion of a misinterpreted sentence make the reader misunderstand the next, making a string of quotes look like a decisive case.  It may be right, but it might need a bit more of an argument to make it go.

Let’s move on.

At the heart of the book’s vision for marriage is a commendation of “friendship.”  They read, they tell us, a whole lot of marriage books and nary the word was found.  I confess my initial skepticism: for years I have heard from happily married evangelical couples that they were so in love because they “married their best friend.”  Prone as I am to be the affable contrarian, I have nearly universally retorted that I am quite content to interact with my wife in ways I couldn’t imagine acting with any other friend.  It’s a cheeky point meant to raise a classic conundrum. If we call married folks friends, we may not gain any understanding as much as lose a perfectly good word.

While I don’t think the concept is quite as novel as the Driscolls make it sound (it’s in the evangelical waters, even if not in the evangelical books), they moved me to reconsider my snark and give the idea a little more thought.   While I’m always interested in keeping categories clear, the conceptual fusion potentially illuminates both marriage and friendship in distinctively Christian ways.  There’s a peculiar modification of eros, the desire that gets expressed in marriage through sex, within the Christian tradition, and the possibility of enfolding in other forms of affection into it would leave none of them unaltered.

Of course, the Driscolls don’t take all this friendship business nearly as far or as deep as I might want or like.   But I’m a nerd, and Driscoll is not (though as my wife will attest, I beat him to the jeans and blazer look).  But it’s a good start in a potentially fruitful direction, and if it prompts some eager reader to extend the thought further down the road, so much the better for all.

I could go on with other helpful advice, but it woudn’t sound particularly remarkable to most of you (saturated, as I presume you are, in the world of marriage sermonizing).

Yet therein lies an important point, as it’s not clear the book was written for us.  Or at least, not only for us.  Driscoll managed to land a slot on Dr. Drew’s tv show (He conducts himself admirably).  And has been hanging about the Washington Post.  Say what you will, but Driscoll seems relatively adamant on breaking outside the narrow confines of evangelicalism and talking with someone who might not agree with him for reasons totally different than his Christian peers.

Which is to say, Driscoll may be wrong on some points, but he’s wrong with flair.  And that, for me, makes him interesting.   As I’m not yet ready to trade interested dialogue for scathing dismissals, I’m more inclined to sign on to Doug Wilson’s prudent course:   “One of the things we should learn, when confronted with such controversy, is how to be good stewards of it. We have ourselves a situation. Let us try to turn a profit on it.”

For part two of this review, click here

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • I can’t comment on the book, not having read it, or your review of it. But you have one thing absolutely right (thought perhaps it’s just that I also can be quite the contrarian): my wife is my wife, not my “friend.”

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Heh. Trust me. I am very sympathetic to the position!

  • Will Barrett

    Doug Wilson is being the grown-up here; the dismissals of Denny Burk and Al Mohler strike me as unhelpful.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      I agree Wilson has been in fine form. But who is dismissing Burk and Mohler?

  • Will Barrett

    Ah! Should have said that Burk’s dismissal of Driscoll is unhelpful – lack of clarity on my part.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      No worries, Will! Just wanted to make sure I hadn’t unintentionally communicated something like that. : )

  • Thanks for the fair and helpful thoughts. While I’m not necessarily a fan of the book, I have been rather appalled at some of the claims of misogyny and treating his wife like a sex slave that have been flying about.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Thanks, Findo. And good review of the book. I think it gets close to the heart of the response: Driscoll’s reputation precedes him on this.

  • Hermonta Godwin

    The friendship aspect of marriage is a very interesting concept. I recently read, Man and Woman in Christ by Stephen B. Clark. It is a massive book on the roles of men and women in light of Scripture, Church History, and Social Sciences as of the late 70s. Clark is a conservative Roman Catholic. The book talks about the rise of friendship concept of marriage and how it is foreign to the traditional view of marriage until after the industrial revolution and the resulting societal changes. The extended family and the community began to fracture leaving only the nuclear family. This being the case, some effort had to be made to shore up what was left, hence the need to strengthen the emotional bond. This to some extent feminizes men as opposed to masculinitizing women. Being someone’s best friend and being their husband are seen as incompatible in some ways.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Hermonta, excellent summation of what sounds like a really compelling book. I’m going to pick it up from the library!

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet

      Thanks for the book title, which happens to be in my city library system. It’s handy that the books getting discussed here at Mere O are ones I can check out from libraries!

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  • Hermonta Godwin

    Matthew,
    Why is it problematic for Mark to say he would not have married his wife, if he had known that she had cheated on him before they got married? I’m not sure how you can justify a complaint against such a position unless you believe that any dating relationship must end in marriage no matter what. If you do not hold such a position, then how is Mark’s response out of bounds?

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Hermonta, yeah, I don’t hold the position that every dating relationship should end in marriage. I also don’t think that, de facto, cheating on someone is necessarily grounds for ending the relationship. I think the worry is that without additional context and clarification, it seems to have closed off the possibility of repentance and forgiveness and possibly the sort of reconciliation that would lead to marriage. That’s the *worry.* My point is that without further clarification on all that, it’s not even fair to say what Driscoll would do or recommend now.

      Best,

      matt

  • Matthew,

    I dunno how well you followed this, but have you found yourself amused as I have that this seems to have followed a similar trajectory to the situation of Mr. Christopher West in the Catholic Church, and the way some groups responded to his popularization of the Theology of the Body? I just…find it interesting that those two are sort of in the same boat.

    I would have thought, and this is mostly thought given my very inexperienced view of male-female realtionships, that in Lewis’s terms, a good marriage ought to have charity first and foremost but would ideally be also characterized by affection, eros and friendship three, even if not all three were always present.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      KKairos,

      I’ve heard rumblings about a lot of pushback against West, but nothing too definite. Have a link to where I can read more?

      And I think you’re right about relationships needing multiple dimensions present. That has always seemed clear to me. But the rhetoric of marrying your best friend seems to obscure important differences that I think are worth holding on to.

      • One of the biggest things West caught flack for (aside from being accused by some more Traditionalist types of having an oversexualized depiction of some liturgical objects/actions) was his saying that sodomy could be acceptable as non-climax (non-intentional at least) foreplay, though it wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the act.

        ‘Pro-West’ piece by Janet Smith is here. In checking one of Smith’s claims I got a citation for at least one pre-Vatican-II moral manual for confessionals agreeing with West that sodomy-as-foreplay is not automatically a sin, though obviously that’s not going to stop his critics, nor is that the only criticism.

        ‘Anti-West’ piece by Alice von Hildebrand is here.

        And wikipedia actually has a decent summary of things people have had to say about his work. Interestingly enough the bishops seem to mostly have endorsed him.

        I think one key difference has been that people criticizing West have focused on the danger of cult of personality and compatibility with Catholic moral tradition; criticisms of Driscoll seem alternately based on him being a supposed sexist, or being too liberal with interpretation of biblical text.

  • Matt: I understand and appreciate your desire to keep the categories of “marriage” and “friendship” clear and distinct, but surely you recognize that some features of friendship are present in marriage, right? I don’t think you want to make the mistake of saying that marriage is wholly other than friendship. It seems to me that marriage involves all four loves: storge, phileo, eros, and agape.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Christopher, of course I recognize that there’s overlap in the features. : ) They’re both relationships, relationships between rational animals, etc. etc. : ) The concern is partly one of understanding: simply saying “all of the above” might be true, but it seems insufficient for understanding the inner relationship between those forms of love. And that’s what I want to get to: how does marriage *alter* friendship, such that marital friendship is a unique form (such that it may not merit the term “friendship”, or only merits it analogously)?

      • Christopher Benson

        I’ve neve read a finer treatment of “the inner relationship between those forms of love” than C.S. Lewis’ FOUR LOVES.

        • Matthew Lee Anderson

          Happy to hear it!

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  • Found this link very interesting too: http://sacredfriendshipgathering.com/2012/01/10/mark-driscoll-real-marriage-pt1/

    Thanks for your post – will check out Part 2 now.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Thanks for the link, Karin! Looks really interesting. That conference looks great, too!

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  • Tyler Manners

    In all of the beautiful rhetoric, there are people who–some through no fault of their own, some with disasters in their own personal histories–sit and listen to people critique the grand opera, while they can only hear it from outside the theatre. Many coupled Christians pontificate about their singular counterparts having a special “calling,” so that they aren’t faulted for feeling pity for them. Many of us aren’t called to be alone, but secretly know that it probably won’t change, so we occupy to avoid introspection. It only hurts when you concentrate on it. The church is often a sanctuary from our sexually-obsessed world, but now that the church is equally obsessed. . . .
    I don’t mean to put anyone down, but all the discussion, doesn’t change the fact that the unconnected are seen near the low end of the pecking order.
    I found my way here by way of the interview with Roger and Hous on KBRT recently, as well as a missive I wrote to them and a conversation I had with the show’s producer. Matt, your use of words is truly amazing. I stand in awe.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Tyler,

      Thanks for the comment, and the compliment at the end. Would love to read the feedback you gave ’em and the discussion you had with them. Shoot me an email at matthewleeanderson.84 at gmail dot com if you want.

      That said, totally agree about the way “calling” gets reduced to an explanation for singleness. It’s tricky because I do believe some people ARE called, and evangelicals don’t present it as a genuine option for folks, but that most folks are headed toward marriage and their singleness is a result of messed up dating systems, etc. etc.

      That said, I love–LOVE–this line: “The church is often a sanctuary from our sexually-obsessed world, but now that the church is equally obsessed….” Devestating critique, and says in one sentence what I was trying to get at.

      Thanks again for the comment, and hope that we can talk more at some point about all this.

      Best,

      Matt

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