Mark Driscoll and "Real Marriage"


So, I made the colossal error earlier this week of printing out and reading the first chapter of Mark and Grace Driscoll’s new book on marriage. If you are in need of a rage-induced heart attack, here’s the link. And I should say: I make myself read these things because I like to develop my opinions based not on what critics are saying, but on my firsthand experience, and since a lot of people hold Mark Driscoll as an authority on gender issues, it's important for me to keep an eye on him.  

Rather than systematically go through the chapter and respond bit by bit, I’m just going to bullet point a few things under headings, ala my friend Grace’s review of the Mars Hill doc. So here’s my quick and dirty initial thoughts (pun intended).


Arrogance, Thy Name is Mark


Driscoll is pretty widely criticized for his arrogance, though defenders would rather excuse it as a "style." In the preface to the book – entitled, in all seriousness, “How Not to Read This Book” – Driscoll reveals a profoundly self-centered and egotistical attitude. He lists several “Don’t’s,” which I can understand doing, having myself issued similar imploring warnings on posts I know to be controversial, or, when I get snarky, mentions of intended tone. But the order and emphasis with which Driscoll makes these warnings is puzzling at best, and kind of disturbing at worst.


The first thing he lists? “Don’t read as a voyeur trying to figure out our sex life.”


Really? That’s his biggest concern for what people are going to take away from the book? He's that concerned that people are oh-so-interested in his sex life with his wife that they’re reading it just out of voyeuristic curiosity? And he's so concerned about it that he felt it had to be listed first, before “Don’t read sections of the book and tell your spouse, ‘I told you so,” or “Don’t keep thinking about all the other people who need to read this book,” or “Don’t be lazy and unwilling to put in the work,” or “Don’t confuse principles and methods.”


He seriously thought “don’t be a voyeur” was so important that he had to list it first and foremost? I have “WTF” written in the margins by that sentence. While I haven’t written a book on marriage, I have written on the issue of sex and sexuality before, and not once did it occur to me to warn people not to read into my posts about what I may or may not be experiencing with the issue. And I’m aware that’s anecdotal, but my experience explains a little of why I’m so baffled that “don’t be a voyeur” would be the first thing he wanted to caution people against. Does he not trust his readers enough to be mature about the issue? Or is he afraid of his critics?


Sexy Sex Sex Sexytimes


I’m just going to say it outright: Mark Driscoll is obsessed with sex to a practically unhealthy level. It is almost scary how often sex is mentioned throughout this first chapter – it is as though every thought about marriage and gender has to do with the act of sex and the quality of intimacy between partners.


I fully recognize that sex is a big part of relationships and problems with a sex life can be symptomatic of other relational issues. BUT, I would refrain from going in the opposite direction – as it appears Mark Driscoll has done – and making it seem as though sex is the only thing that matters when it comes to a healthy, functioning relationship.


Here’s what I mean: Driscoll makes sex into a larger issue than it needs to be in discussing marriage. If this first chapter is any indication, the bulk of this book will center on sex, which fails to recognize that sex is only a part of a whole, rather than the whole itself. He interjects sex into a conversation where sex doesn’t necessarily need to be brought up. For example, when talking about the church he started attending shortly after his conversion to Christianity (from…Catholicism? Hmmm) in college, he states:


The pastor seemed to really love his wife, and they had a faithful and fun marriage. The previous church I had attended was Catholic, with a priest who seemed to be a gay alcoholic. He was the last person on earth I wanted to be like. To a young man, a life of poverty, celibacy, living at the church, and wearing a dress was more frightful than going to hell, so I stopped going to church somewhere around junior high. But this pastor was different. He had been in the military, had earned a few advanced degrees, and was smart. He was humble. He bow hunted. He had sex with his wife. He knew the Bible. He was not religious.


Bluntly: There is absolutely no need to interject sex into that discussion. For one, Driscoll does not and cannot know what sort of sex life this pastor had, unless he was inappropriately sharing about it during the sermon. For two, it’s kind of ridiculous that a young man would be aware enough to know that he didn’t want celibacy at, y’know, nine or ten years old. But for Driscoll, that appears to be a defining characteristic of manhood: having sex with a woman. It is almost as though he’s afraid the reader will forget that he’s a man and he has to remind them every couple of paragraphs that “I have sex with my wife. I have a penis.”


I'm going to say it right now: Having sex is not an indicator of manliness. This is the exact kind of thinking much of the church preaches against - you don't need to be having sex to "prove" that you are a man. But because it's with his wife, it's apparently perfectly okay for Mark to make that syllogism - "Is he having sex with a woman? Yes? Then he is a man." And that's hurtful and dangerous thinking.


Wow, that sounds kind of rape-y.


After reading the chapter, one can begin to understand Driscoll’s odd “don’t be a voyeur” warning. I understand a lot more about the sex life between Grace and Mark Driscoll than I ever cared to know. But one thing in particular kind of disturbed me: the way he talks about sex in terms of his own pleasure and seems to only consider her as an afterthought. He writes,


I felt God had conned me by telling me to marry Grace, and allowed Grace to rule over me since she was controlling our sex life. … Grace was so full of shame and hurt from previous relationships that she didn’t trust that I loved her, no matter how many times I said it. She became afraid of me, and felt used as I tried to explain how she frustrated me sexually, which added to her feeling less valuable.


Notice the use of passive voice. It’s not, “My frustration with her made her feel used.” It’s “She felt used when I tried to explain…” which places him in the seat of being the kind, caring husband who just wants a good sex life but has a wife who overreacts emotionally and doesn’t listen. There’s literally no responsibility taken by him here, even years after the fact. All the intimacy issues they had were Grace’s to work through, her faults that she needed to repent of, and her responsibility to seek forgiveness. For someone who proclaims from the rooftop that marriage is the work of two people, it seems like the blame only rests on one here.


Literally the only thing Mark actually admits fault for? His “bitterness and resentment." That's it.


I recognize that this last part sounds like I'm being unnecessarily critical of Mark himself, so let me explain: the entire first chapter is about his relationship, and as he is writing a marriage book subtitled "The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together," it is necessary to examine his personal attitudes, from which we can glean his thinking as he discusses this topic. Tomorrow, with post two, it will hopefully become clearer why Driscoll's attitude of sex as a sign of manliness and his focus on his own pleasure are necessary things to note for how he handles the theology of relationships with others. Basically, it is important to look at and critique his attitude and motivations before we can move on to looking at his advice as authoritative (which is what he claims about his own work).


Part 2 on sexual assault and the voice of women will be up tomorrow!