January 19, 2021

Top of My “Don’t Read” List

NOTE: Before you read this post, please read the Moderation Rules in the box below.

• • •

Unless something unforeseen arises, I won’t be reading Mark Driscoll’s new book, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship & Life Together. I have read the first chapter and several passages quoted in reviews, but only in preparation for this post.

It’s simply not the kind of book I think is wise or helpful.

Besides the fact that it is not written for people like me, who have been married for a few decades, I can’t imagine wanting to read this book. Is this because I am older and wiser now? Who knows? I guess I did read a few books like this when I was younger, but to be honest, even then I never found them that helpful for me personally or for the people I was trying to serve as their pastor.

Mark Driscoll disagrees.

Because we are a pastor and his wife, we really do want this book to be used of God to help people. It’s the kind of book we wished we could have read earlier in our marriage, and wish we could have given to those we served in ministry. So we wrote what we hope is a book that is biblically faithful, emotionally hopeful, practically helpful, sociologically viable, and personally vulnerable.

I think what he has given us is just another evangelical circus act.

First of all, what pastoral theology taught Driscoll to be a marriage counselor or sex therapist?

That is not a pastor’s job.

I know. I know. Driscoll believes that the church is called to be missionaries to our overly sexualized culture. Hmm. How did Paul serve people as a missionary in the immoral, pornographic world of his day? Does Driscoll’s approach bear any resemblance to apostolic ministry?

For someone touted as truly Reformed with a high view of Scripture, where in the Bible do you find anything like this kind of self-focused, self-promoting, sensational (note how “Sex” gets pride of place in the subtitle), confessional-style, behind-the-scenes peek into someone’s home and bedroom employed as a legitimate tool of ministry? Packaged and promoted to be a bestseller, to boot. Become a big shot, write a book. Act all vulnerable and real. It’s the American way, not the apostolic pattern.

The very last thing any of us need is a purportedly Christian “how to” book exposing the intimate revelations of some hot-shot celebrity pastor and his wife to guide us in the most important relationships in our lives.

This, in a nutshell, is the bane of American religion.

What I have read from the book convinces me that I would have some criticisms typical of the usual flak Driscoll receives for the persona he sets forth, the coarse, in your face style which is his trademark, and, not least, his opinions about men and women. For example, if I were a strong complementarian like Driscoll, and believed it was my duty as a husband to protect my wife, why in the world would I encourage her to share the intimate details of her sex life with the world? And how is it that a biblicist like Mark Driscoll has bought into the therapeutic ethos of the culture, promoting this kind of “vulnerability” as an approach to ministry?

But I don’t even want to go there. The whole approach is off-base. I find the very idea of this book as misguided and distasteful as Ted Haggard appearing on Celebrity Wife Swap as a “testimony” to his “resurrection.”

This is our idea of Christian “impact”? Of helping people see Jesus? Of helping people become truly mature, pure, and loving followers of Jesus? If I want to experience a little boy running around the room all day shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!” then I will invite my three-year old grandson over to spend some time with me.

What we need are real people in our lives. Real family members. Real friends. Real brothers and sisters. Real pastors. Real churches. Real neighbors. Who will tell us and show us what real life is like. And actually walk beside us in it. Not hand us a juicy book.

Furthermore, we need people who are courageous enough to refuse to pander to our personal preoccupations and our culture’s obsession with sex, even within marriage. We need people to help us discern what is and what is not an appropriate topic for public conversation among followers of Christ. We need spiritual mentors who will look us straight in the eye and tell us to get real help if we need it. We need older men and women who can come alongside younger men and women and mentor them about virtues like chastity, privacy, respect, modesty, and restraint.

And…we need pastors to hear our confessions and pronounce absolution through Christ’s finished work. Pastors who will nourish us with the Word of the Gospel and food from Christ’s Table. Pastors who will catechize us and teach us and pray for us so that we will die to ourselves each day and rise again to walk in newness of life with Jesus — a life of faith that works through genuine love for others, including our spouses. Pastors who will encourage us to seek first the Kingdom, to involve ourselves in an enterprise bigger than ourselves and to serve others with grace, kindness, and humility. Pastors who can help us put all of life in perspective in Christ and not focus our attention on such things as which sex acts are permissible for married couples.

We need spiritual nourishment and spiritual formation. And I am not using the word “spiritual” in some dualistic sense that leaves out matters like marriage and the marriage bed. I mean it in the sense of our deepest selves, our very lives and all that they encompass.

What we do not need is rock star celebrity pastors pontificating on the big screens of their cool megachurches about how Song of Solomon is a sex guide or writing books laying bare the intimate details of their lives in wrongheaded attempts to be relevant and edgy. Hurting and bewildered people deserve better than that.

Even if Mark Driscoll says some good, helpful things in this book — and I’m sure he does — I wouldn’t be able to hear them over the circus music.

You see, this rant is really not about a pastor and his wife and the book they wrote. It’s about the system of American evangelicalism that glorifies all the wrong things and seeks “answers” in all the wrong places.

• • •

For further analysis, here are two critical reviews of Real Marriage:


Moderation Rules for This Post

  • Short comments only. Anything longer than one reasonably sized paragraph (3-4 sentences) will be deleted.
  • No provocative sexual language will be tolerated.
  • No links.
  • I will be the judge. I will not explain my decisions.
  • Don’t take moderation personally. It’s not. It’s just the rules by which we are playing this particular game.



  1. Who says you can’t serve God and money, sell a few books, inspire a few couples seminars and retreats, make Christianity a little sexier, a little more marketable?
    Besides, it just makes it easier to render unto both God and Caesar if they share a bank account.

  2. This is so RIGHT ON, Chaplain Mike.

    Love your honesty and how you make me THINK AND RETHINK!

  3. Matt Purdum says

    This is plainly market-driven, because it will sell more “units” than anything by NT Wright. And that’s just sad.

  4. A HEARTY AMEN to everything you stated about this book, Chaplain Mike! You are a great voice of reasoned thinking!

  5. I don’t think this book is pandering to our over sexualized society rather accommodating for the lack of resources concerning sex and the Christian marriage. I have not read the book but some of the questions that were asked I have asked in the past. However, I could not ask anyone but myself because no one else wanted even to hear these questions. Also, I don’t think this is seeking the answers in the wrong location when we are looking towards the bible (ex. Song of Solomon) to answer these questions.

    • So, what makes Mark Driscoll, a pastor, an expert on this? And why should we look to the Bible for answers to questions like these?

      • I am no fan of Driscoll. I very much appreciated CT’s review of this book in particular the outlandish remarks MD has made in the past that leaves me feeling, like you, no desire to read a book of his. I also don’t necessarily get the connection between writing a book about one’s experiences and how they have theologically processed that experience and a claim of expertise. I get the feeling that he wants to be open about some questions because, just like our teachers told us in school, if you have the question running through your mind everyone probably does too. Like him or not, I suspect some people might read this book and find some sexual liberation which cannot be a bad thing.

      • I am not saying Driscoll has to be an expert to deal with sexuality in a Christian marriage. For example I am no expert in New Testament Greek but when I do find a nugget worthy of teaching I share it. Why should we look to the Bible for any answers? Granted not every answer is found in the Bible but I would look there first to see if my question is addressed. If not, I look to those with biblical knowledge to help me answer the question. As we all agree our society is over sexualized. These types of questions will come up. But, if we hide behind Ephesians 5:12 (really taken out of context in this situation considering we are talking about Christian marriages and not “works of darkness”) and tell those who enquirer about such things that it is shameful and taboo to even ask the question we will alienate those that have legitimate concerns. Those that ask are only wanting to know the truth and to apply it to their lives. It is our duty to point them to Christ in all we do including the marriage bed.

        • Andrew, no one is saying it is shameful and taboo to talk about these matters in an appropriate context. I simply question whether the appropriate context is an over-hyped book by a celebrity pastor that is being promoted as “naughty” in order to increase sales. There is a striking contrast, as some have pointed out already, between this book and the way it is being presented, and Tim Keller’s book.

    • Song of Solomon is not a “guide to Christian sex/marriage” any more than the feeding of five thousand is a “guide to Christian cooking.”

      When I was in high school, our youth group went to a seminar where the speaker had found an exact step-by-step sequence of “how Christians should date” in the Song of Solomon. I ran into the pamphlet a year ago when I was going through my old stuff, and it’s pretty silly.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        So Driscoll isn’t the only one who reads too much into Song of Solomon…

      • Welsh Willie says

        So how many dates did he say should go by before reaching second base (“thy breasts are like fawns, twins of a gazelle”)?

      • “an exact step-by-step sequence of “how Christians should date” in the Song of Solomon”

        What – the girls run through the streets at night, asking the beat cops if they’ve seen their boyfriends? The boys write the kind of love poetry that would get them in serious trouble if the girls’ parents saw it? I don’t see how you get a step-by-step guide to dating here, unless it’s “These are the steps that lead to shotgun marriages”.

        • Martha, every single comment of yours is worth its weight in gold for its wisdom & hilarity….I’m in danger of developing an intellectual crush on you.

          Actually I’m looking for a spiritual director with a proper brain, how about a hoilday in England?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Sounds like it has movie potential — a romantic farce comedy about a young preacher-boy who decides to “court” a girl using Song of Solomon as a step-by-step how-to manual and Hilarity Ensues.

          • Complete with scene where girl in panic heads off to the local branch of The Body Shop (or whatever the American equivalent is) looking for myrrh so that her fingers will drip according to Scripture, and then cut to her fumbling with the door bolt because who knew slippery fingers meant you couldn’t open the door properly?

            Hey, maybe that’s why it’s in the Song of Songs! Keep lover-boy waiting outside in the cold so long while girlfriend fumbles with the lock, his ardour cools 🙂

      • Michael Spencer said this: “Song of Solomon is erotic poetry, and not much else.”

  6. Thank you. I am gratified to see so many banding together on this one.

  7. Susan Wise Bauer has written another helpful critique/analysis of this book. http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2012/janfeb/realmarriage.html Just thought I’d mention it to go along with your links to Challies & Evans.

    • Whoops, sorry about the link. I didn’t see the moderation rule of no links for this post till afterward I posted the comment! Please accept my apologies.

    • I will let this link stand. This is an excellent review, and mirrors a common response to the book: (1) It contains helpful material, but is unremarkable and not much different than most Christian books on marriage, (2) It’s more about Mark Driscoll, the celebrity pastor, than anything else, (3) It is being hyped as something bold and “naughty” in order to sell books. As the publisher’s blurb says: “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.”

      In the end, the reviewer gives the same common-sense advice I am giving: You can seek out a celebrity book to help you,

      “Or you could just ask for counsel from a couple of ordinary folks who have managed to stay married. They’ll probably suggest that you talk to each other about your emotions, do nice things for each other, cultivate friendship, plan date nights. They’ll likely tell you that sex within marriage is a good thing. They’ll recommend forgiveness, kindness, patience. They’ll give you pretty decent advice.”

      • Glad to hear you found the review as well done as I did. Again, my apologies for not fully reading the rules in the first place… I usually try to play by them! Thanks for your excellent work on this site.

  8. Mark Driscoll is coming to Newspring Church in South Carolina for a “Real Marriage Conference”. A friend posted on Facebook that she and her husband are going.

  9. There’s another take that I think is just as disturbing. Christans seems to gravitate to extremes. On one side you have the crowd who’s penalized sexulaity, and largely made it a criminal act. In this crowd they put their heads in the sand and act like the issue is going to go away. It confuses people and leaves people unsure of what to believe. Then on the other extreme you have Mark Driscoll’s take.

    Where is the middle ground? Why can’t Christians just approach sexuality in a normal healthy manner. Why does it have to be hyper played up? Or hyper played down… Both approaches are extreme….

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Eagle, today seems to be an Age of Extremes in general. In that case, Christians are just following the bandwagon like everybody else.

  10. “Perhaps — just maybe — if either person had approached the other as equals, as partners, instead of cogs in the Jesus machine…”‘ – Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist).

    That is profound. He nails what is wrong with complimentarianism: playing roles as if parts in a movie script rather than actually participating in a relationship. So much of fundagelicalism enslaves its followers into following roles, acting out parts, and wearing masks. One can’t be oneself.

    • Oh I love that quote

    • Wonderful quote, and your comment is wonderful too.

      I cannot express how deeply I mean it when I say that I can discuss and debate complementarianism all you want–on the clock. But when I go home I wish to be a real person, married to a real person.

      Thank goodness my husband feels the same way.

    • Crooked Bird says

      Yes. This is good. Whether it’s complementarian hierarchical roles or feminist “women must always be strong” mode (I tend toward the latter), having a rigid model in your head as to how you should relate to your spouse is… just plain annoying, in the end.

      Sometimes I wonder if the complementarians have a point, especially when I look at biology & animals–eg the buffalo under attack circling around the calves, females on the inside and males on the outside, it makes a certain kind of sense, am I sure this isn’t natural to humans too? And then I think, if it’s *natural*, why preach about it so much, why try to enforce it and make sure people do it? Why make up these rigid roles? I suppose they would say people have been pushed by new ideologies into unnatural things. Even if that were true in the long run the answer is STOP PUSHING.

      I go with egalitarianism, myself. But in that too I am interested in stopping pushing. In not constantly evaluating my behavior with my husband to see if I look dependent, for example. Or–get this–if I act dependent more often than he does! Forget it. We need each other. That’s the important thing. More important than my darned credentials.

  11. Donegal Misfortune says

    Wow… what a firestorm this Church Merch has created..

  12. Grace Driscoll needs a hug. And the number to a battered women’s shelter. Those excerpts from Rachel Evans’s blog made me sick. The fact that thousands of Christians can read this and not recognize the blatant emotional abuse is one of the many reasons I do not miss Christianity.

    “I saw your sin in a vision” – Classic Driscoll and classic abusive cult leader tactic.

    • What I find distrubing is that while Grace gets hammered for making a mistake, Mark Driscoll gets a pass. Go figure…. I find that to be quite disturbing and I wonder if others in the community, you know the other Big Dogs will give him a pass on that also. Will John Piper confront him? What about CJ Mahaney? How about Tom Challis? Perry Noble? I think that’s something all Christians should be concerned about… Otherwise its going to communicate that guys can make mistakes but females can’t. The reality about life is that EVERYONE makes mistakes.

      If that happens it will again show Christianity to be manipulative and in the case of Driscoll…quite vindictive.

    • I so agree, Marie….I was sickened and disgusted when I read that. It is so wrong on so many levels…!!!

    • Prodigal Daughter says

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that thought this section of the book was heinously ungracious. I wanted to pop Driscoll in the mouth after reading that excerpt of Rachel Evan’s blog! He came across so sanctimonious and for a man who preaches grace (and has a wife by that beautiful name), I found it so hypocritical and abusive. Perhaps it’s out of context because it was just an excerpt, but he never comes around and repents of his awful behavior towards her. He fails to see that he is just as much a sinner as she is, just the sin is different. I also have a soft spot for Grace bc my past life seems to mirror hers. Even with the husband who was hurt by the sins I committed before I met him. The difference for me is that my husband, while hurt, showed me grace and realized that his sins are no better than mine.

      Such a shame. I really hated reading that excerpt and I am angry over it.

    • So much can be said about his description of their early sexual relationship. For one, he really would not have married his wife if he had known about that one sin? He is so struck down by the idea that she might have had premarital sex, one time, that he spends all night devastated and on pins and needles for her to wake up?

      And he wonders why she did not say anything about it.

      His recounting of this event makes my blood run cold. Being disappointed or surprised would be one thing. But he’s clearly furious. As he explains it, at the time he was convinced that he’d been betrayed, and that all women have betrayed him or are about to, and that his wife has failed to deliver the sexual life to which he feels entitled. From both reading and some unpleasant life experience, when I read this sort of thing I immediately see someone who is either very abusive or cultivating tendencies that fast going to head in this direction.

      If Driscoll does not explain why these feelings were misplaced on this part — if he in fact justifies or legitimizes these feelings as manly — then the book contains some very disturbing themes.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “I saw your sin in a vision” – Classic Driscoll and classic abusive cult leader tactic.

      And/or Driscoll’s sexual fantasies given “acceptible Xian” form (whether consciously or subconsciously). Yo saw a lot of similar over-the-top sexual fantasy in Medieval hermit monks (where Celibacy met Clericalism), except they interpreted it as Temptations from the Devil instead of “Discernment” visions from God.

    • Isn’t that story the description of a very insecure, immature little boy who deals with his fears by lashing out? Isn’t this classic bully behavior? How can this an example of true masculine maturity and leadership? Anybody? Anybody? Beuler? Beuler? Is it just me, or does this emperor have no clothes? Whatsoever (Contrary to reformed teaching; contrary to anything remotely mature and masculine)?

    • Marie – another reviewer (Team Pyro) wondered about the darker nature of Driscoll’s visions:

      “Why do his revelatory dreams always feature sexual sin or some violent act involving physical abuse of women? Why do Driscoll’s dreams and visions never seem to expose white-collar criminals—tax cheats, embezzlers, or religious hypocrites?”

  13. For all of Driscoll’s doctrinalism, how is this practically different than a book by Joel Osteen? I mean, it’s a self help guide to finding temporal fulfillment in what this life has to offer. It dangles in the carrot of worldly pleasures and beats with the stick of man made methods, injected with Bible verses to some how make it sound spiritual. “How to have a good marriage” has nothing to do with Christianity. Heathens want that just the same. Slap a Jesus sticker on it, roll in the dough. I don’t promise not to read this: I promise not to buy it.

    • I agree. Again, why is he not just called “reformed” but the gold standard of reformed theology? I don’t get it.

  14. I like the direct approach Mark takes to a lot of things. He’s obviously not perfect, but he’s still witnessing to specifically, the generation of man/boys our culture has produced.

    I guess my only other comment would be, someone should actually read the book, then write a critique on it. Seems a little weird to blast a book from one excerpt and the title. The book could be horrible, it could be so-so, it could be incredible or any shade thereof… just saying.

  15. one more point – one thing we don’t want to do, in the ‘post evangelical wilderness’ is get so cynical that we perceive NOTHING is of any value.

  16. while I would not be at all surprised to find that all of your impressions about this book were correct, it was a bit off-putting to me that you wrote this post in the first place when you have not read more than the opening chapter. It came across as an “I don’t like Mark Driscoll” post. I wonder if you would like the same sort of treatment extended to you if you had written a book by someone who had not read it?

    • I suggest you read the last sentence of the post again.

      • Mike, I read the last sentence, but regardless of what you said the post was really about, the majority was still very critical of Driscoll and the very idea of his book. Furthermore, the vast majority of the comments have been highly critical on Driscoll and very few have indicated they read the book. This reminds me of the outbursts about Rob Bell by people who didn’t even read what he said.

  17. I actually read the book and yes, there are sections that I could definitely do without and I have some theological issues that I will discuss with my husband when he is finished reading it. That being said, I think it is unfortunate that so many are jumping on the band wagon and writing comments and reviews on a book that they have never read and have no intention of reading. Real Marriage may not be the best book ever but you really have no business judging it or it’s authors if you can’t even be bothered to read it first. Read a book if you have an interest in, then write your reviews. That’s the way it’s generally done.

    • Bam!

    • I suggest you read the last sentence of the post once more.

      • I read it and I stand by what I said. Most of the reviews and comments I have read here and elsewhere on the web have proudly stated they have no plans to read the book and then proceeded to give their thoughts on it. It would seem to me that this kind of behavior only contributes to “the circus”. Your purpose may not be to slander a specific person or their book and if that is so then you might want to reevaluate the effectiveness of this kind of article. Sometimes the way we choose to say something completely obscures the point we’re trying to make.

        • And I will stand my position that, as long as the Christian culture continues to market products like they do — with an emphasis on celebrities and sensationalism, I will refuse to buy and I will critique the sub-Christian tactics being employed.

  18. Wow. Christianity truly is an army that shoots their own. If God laid it on his heart to write this, I’m not even going to attack him. An unbeliever reading this article really learns about grace, huh.

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