Mark Driscoll, high-profile pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, is known for his honest, often-acerbic speaking style. Even so, for Driscoll and his wife, Grace, to lay out their sexual history in a book for the world to see is risky at best, and potentially lethal to a ministry career at worst. Still, the Driscolls felt they had little choice but to address the topic head on in their new book, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together (Thomas Nelson, Jan.).
"Grace and I were high school sweethearts, trying to figure out our relationship, and we hit rough patches. We’ve found there are lots of people like us who didn’t start well," Driscoll says.
When they read books on marriage, they didn’t find answers to all of their questions, including the ones they answer frankly in the book, such as: Is oral sex sinful for unmarried people? How should married couples decide together about doing anal sex and oral sex? Is masturbation a sin? “Most marriage books we’ve read shy away from talking explicitly about sex,” Driscoll says.
“Lots of the books on marriage are great if you’ve never experienced sexual assault or been abused or exposed to pornography or sexual sins,” Driscoll says. But the Driscolls did experience many of these things, so they write and speak about first-hand experiences, including some startling discoveries after they were married and how they worked through issues related to each of their sexual histories. “We had to learn some things the hard way, so we have the chance to help people. We started leading counseling sessions, seminars, teaching on marriage.”
The Driscolls ask early in the book that readers not approach their story with a “voyeuristic” intent, even though the couple pulls back the curtain on their lives, taking readers into arguments, sexual pasts and present life, mistakes, and healing. Partly because of their sexual histories before marriage, Mark thought of sex as “god” and Grace as “gross,” and they show how together they discovered sex as a gift from God.
Mark says that even in the Christian sub-culture people don’t know much about what the Bible says about sex, and many don’t think of swinging or pornography as sexual sins. “We try to give a framework that helps people think about sex biblically, practically, and to talk through it as couples,” he says.
Though the book is forthright on sex, the heart of the book is about married friendship. The Driscolls say that of the 187 books on marriage they’ve researched, only a few treat that subject in any depth. Real Marriage is about married friendship, sexuality, healing broken marriages, and “reverse engineering” a marriage to last, beginning with a vision of the end result and working back toward it.
“I think [the chapter on friendship] is the most helpful in the book. And it’s an important category for single people as well. For the first time in our nation there are more single people than married.” Driscoll says that because the Bible prohibits sex before marriage, couples should first learn to be friends without sex.
The Driscolls' approach runs counter to that of some pastor couples who write about marriage in ways that seem too good to be true. He and Grace have a checkered past, and they still argue even after many years of marriage. “We believe that if you never fight, you probably aren’t having heartfelt conversations that often lead to disagreement.”
The final feature of the book derives from a conviction Driscoll had about his career and family. "I had the conviction of a pastor about vision, values, measurable objectives for the church, but had never written these down for my family. So the second half of the book is sort of like a counseling session--a course correction in book form. In a counseling session we look at a person’s whole life, budget, problems, and there’s a course correction,” Driscoll says.
In a world where clergy often try to hide their flaws, the Driscolls can offer a refreshing model for 21st-century Christians seeking real-life examples of how to live what the Bible taught about sex two to three millennia ago.