Mark and Grace Driscoll's "Real Marriage": Review Series

real marriage

A little while ago, I put together a list of the most popular Christian marriage advice books. I made this list based on a variety of factors; I looked at a bunch of “best of” lists and found the ones that showed up on more than one, or had the most reviews– and the most positive reviews– on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook . . . I also tried to limit the list to books that were extremely popular and well-known, that appeared frequently in church curriculum or pre-marital counseling materials. After I had the list, I put up a poll on the next book I should review as part of an extended review series. Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge was the winner, but the close second was Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll.

Since Real Marriage was only published in 2012, it’s not a book that’s been able to have a “lasting impact” of any kind, but it is a book that’s been in the public consciousness since it came out, most recently because of how it became a “New York Times Bestseller.” It’s also been a polarizing book and has caused a lot of controversy.

I’ve been aware of Real Marriage since it came out, but since it was written by Mark Driscoll, I deliberately didn’t pay much attention to it. I think I read one review and then shrugged my shoulders in a general feeling of “meh– just Driscoll. Again.” Since I decided I was going to review it, I’ve been trying to avoid read what other people have concluded about it so that I can have as much of an open mind as possible. I’m already aware that I’m not going to like it, but I don’t know much of anything about what’s in it. For Captivating I read a lot of other reviews before I started mine, and that meant that I noticed what other people had noticed, like all of their movie and pop culture references, and I think I might have paid more attention to things like that than I ordinarily would have.

I wanted to try to avoid doing that, but I still wanted to include how other people have received the book, so I came up with this: the star-rating system. So, here’s what the ratings say about the book:

Out of almost 3,700 ratings, 87% of them are positive, as in the were rated with 3 or more stars. On Amazon, about 60% of people gave it 5 stars;  on Goodreads, 30% of the ratings are 5 stars, and 46% are 5 stars on Barnes & Noble. Apparently it’s a well-liked book, regardless of the controversy it’s caused. At this point, I’m hoping that there’s something in there that I can like or agree with. Flipping through it, I noticed a huge section of it is dedicated to sex, and from what I’ve heard about Driscoll’s “Song of Solomon” series, I think there might be something we can agree on in there. The back of the books is even, in a way, sort of promising.

In Real Marriage, Pastor Mark Driscoll and his wife, Grace, share how they have struggled and how they have found healing through the power of the only reliable source: the Bible.

They believe friendship is fundamental to marriage but not easy to maintain. So they offer practical advice on how to make your spouse your best friend– and keep it that way.

And they know from experience that sex-related issues need to be addressed directly. Five chapters are dedicated to answering questions like:

  • Should I confess my pre-martial sexual sin to my spouse?
  • Is it okey to have a “work spouse”?
  • What does the Bible say about masturbation and oral sex?

Stunningly honest and vulnerable, Real Marriage, is like a personal counseling session with a couple you cannot surprise, you cannot shock into silence, who will respond to every question with wisdom, humility, and realism.

If you want to have a long-lasting, fulfilling marriage you should read this book. Wrestle with this book. Pray over this book. Sharke this book. And discover how God can use it to change your life.

See what I mean about sort of, though? Addressing sex directly, instead of euphemistically? That’s, well, a little different. How he is apparently going to talk about it, though . . . hmm. We’ll see.

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  • Ryan Robinson

    We were gifted it for our wedding from well-meaning conservative friends. We only made it as far as the table of contents, but there probably are *some* good things in there amidst the harmful crap. I’ve added you to my Feedly to see what you pull out so we don’t have to.

  • Crystal

    You are very brave to read the book, Samantha. I read small portions of it and found it unbelievably DIFFICULT to stomach. I pray the man won’t KILL you with his deadly enthusiasm for chauvinism! Do treat yourself after every bout of chauvinism with one of your favourite things; ie chocolate ice-cream is high on the list for me at the moment!

    Be prepared to throw the book across the room, Samantha. You will find far more to disagree with than agree with, I am positively adamant on that point!

  • srs

    Sharke this book.

    Hmmm…. (new internet terminology is apt…)

    • srs

      In seriousness, thank you for reviewing this book. I am likely to receive it as a gift in the next few months and from what I’ve already heard, I’ll probably enjoy your review more.

  • Heather

    Really looking forward to your thoughts on this book!

  • I predict this book will collect many frequent flyer miles.

    • Crystal

      Ha ha!! That’s so funny, April K!!!!

    • Keep away from closed windows, Samantha!

  • Yeah, I’m starting to get worried about Samantha’s walls…

  • Fay

    In regards to the number of good reviews, I believe I remember reading that Mark Driscoll actively encouraged church goers to leave good online reviews, possibly in exchange for some kind of benefit. But I’d have to find a source on that to be sure. Also, there’s the plagiarism issue…

  • Liz

    Sam taught College English 101. I’m sure that her plagiarism check is automatic by this point =).

  • I don’t know why it still shocks me that conservative/evangelical Christians really ask questions like “can I have oral sex with my spouse?” Really?! It’s like they just need to be bound by rules so badly that they can’t even let anything consensual be permissible within marriage. They have to still find things to worry and bicker about even in situations where that should all be gone. I don’t know what stance he’ll take on it, but the fact that it’s even a question is why I couldn’t stand growing up in that environment. The more “godly” they get, the more petty and ridiculously perfectionist about religion they become.

    • Driscoll is on record as saying (from the pulpit, of all places) that oral sex within marriage is not only morally permissible, but morally required, in the sense that women are bound by the Word of God to give oral sex to their husbands. To justify this, he uses a passage in Song of Solomon (can’t remember the specific one) that he 1. interprets in a dubious manner and 2. misapplies as prescriptive instead of descriptive. Not sure what he says in the book.

      Really, Christian sexual ethics (real Christian sexual ethics, not Driscoll’s perversion of it) are more nuanced than a set of rules to maintain a sense of perfectionism and questions about sexual practices are perfectly valid; I personally tend to fall on the “anything consensual in marriage is usually OK” side of the equation but it’s not all black and white; a sadist and a masochist might partner in a consensual, even marital relationship and consider it “sexually fulfilling” but I think that many of us would have serious doubts about the ethicality of their sexual practice. Yes, I realize that this is an extreme example, but it does illustrate the insufficiency of consent alone as a standard for ethical sexual practice, despite the absolutely vital part consent plays in sexual ethics.

      • Sara without an H

        Be careful there. I’m not in a formal bdsm partnership but I do enjoy certain bdsm acts (kink). People who engage in kink often have a much more devloped sense of consent, for obvious reasons. I have also known other Christians who like kink. So no, let’s not make assumptions and call it “extreme” and think that we would consider it unethical.

        • Thank you for pointing that out, Sara. I’d missed this comment earlier.

    • Crystal


      Smiles that someone is understanding AT LONG LAST! Some Christians even teach that you can get demon-possessed if you do oral sex with a consenting adult over the age of sixteen, even in marriage. Whaddaya know.

      • Crystal

        My reply is meant for asoundinthesilence.

  • Crystal

    I’m looking forward to your review.