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This post is for adults only.

Mark Driscoll‘s latest book, Real Marriage, is a frank exploration of human sexuality.

Written from a complementarian — male headship over women and children — perspective, it won’t please Christians who find this type of thinking unbiblical. It also won’t please those who are concerned about women being exploited in marriage.

Driscoll’s church members and admirers around the world will no doubt find it of value. What follows are a few excerpts of reviews from conservative and mainline pastors alike.

Denny Burk, an Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, gives a good summary of the book’s contents and purpose. He points out that the Driscolls’ account of their own marriage is written from a Christian perspective. Chapter 10 of the book concerns sodomy, which Driscoll considers acceptable in the context of the sanctity of marriage. Please note that the book discusses Mrs Driscoll’s unfortunate sexual experiences earlier in life. Burk notes (emphases in bold are mine):

The bulk of the chapter gives an ethical assessment of a variety of sexual activities. The Driscolls invoke 1 Corinthians 6:12 as the basis for the evaluation, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” From this text, the Driscolls propose a “taxonomy” of questions to assess the different activities: (1) Is it lawful? (2) Is it helpful? (3) Is it enslaving? If one judges a given behavior to be biblically lawful, relationally helpful, and non-addictive, then it is permissible for Christians to participate in that activity. Among the activities that the authors deem permissible within this taxonomy are masturbation, fel[l]atio/cunnilingus, sodomy (on both spouses), menstrual sex, role-playing, sex toys, birth control, cosmetic surgery, cybersex, and sexual medication. The Driscolls are careful to stipulate that these are activities spouses may participate in by mutual agreement, but not that they must participate in (p. 180). No spouse should be manipulated into doing anything that violates his or her conscience (p. 178). The only item in the list deemed impermissible in every circumstance is sexual assault.

The value of the Driscolls’ taxonomy is only as good as the exegesis that it is based on, but in this case their reading of 1 Corinthians 6:12 is fundamentally flawed. The Driscolls read “all things are lawful” as if the phrase were Paul’s own declaration of Christian freedom, but that is mistaken. Almost every modern translation1 and a near consensus of commentators2 treat “all things are lawful” not as Paul’s words but as a slogan that Corinthian men used to justify their visits to prostitutes (cf. 1 Cor. 6:15). The NIV captures the correct interpretation:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything (1 Cor. 6:12).

The Corinthians may have been riffing on themes they had heard from Paul (cf. Rom. 6:14; 7:4, 6). But they had twisted Paul’s law-free gospel into a justification for bad behavior. Thus the phrase “all things are lawful” is not an expression of Christian freedom from the apostle Paul, but rather an expression of antinomianism from fornicators! Paul’s aim in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 is to correct the Corinthians’ misunderstanding. One of the reasons for the Corinthian error was the fact that they viewed the physical body as inconsequential in God’s moral economy (cf. 1 Cor. 6:13b). Yet Paul refutes the Corinthians on this point and gives them an ultimate ethical norm with respect to their bodies: “You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:20) …

Paul’s question is not “Is it lawful?” but “Does it glorify God with my body?” To miss this is to miss the entire point of the text. Sex exists for the glory of God, and Paul only commends activities that glorify God with the body. In order to answer the question “Does it glorify God?,” one has to have an understanding of the purposes that God has given for sex and whether or not a given activity fits with those purposes (more on this below). This kind of reflection is absent from chapter 10 in Driscoll’s book …

The problems with the Driscolls’ advice, however, are not merely exegetical. They are also pastoral. Although some Christian authors comment on the ethics of a husband sodomizing his wife6, I have yet to find any who contemplate the reverse. Yet the Driscolls give explicit instructions to wives about how they might sodomize their husbands in a pleasurable way (p. 188). Yet where in the Bible is such an activity ever commended? The Bible only contemplates such activities in the context of homosexual relationships. The Bible condemns the “unnatural” use of bodies between persons of the same-sex (Rom. 1:26-27). Why would Christian couples emulate that unnatural use in the marital bed? What about a husband for whom such an activity might stir up homosexual desires that he has never experienced before engaging in this activity with his wife? I do not think that the Driscolls have reckoned with the view that says “immorality” (porneia) is possible within the marital bed. The Driscolls may disagree with this point of view, but they should at least engage biblical commentators who understand sodomy as a defilement of marriage.7

I can think of a whole range of other pastoral problems that might be provoked by chapter 10 …

I can only imagine how chapter 10 might land on someone whose experience has actually been one of sexual innocence. I work with college students who tend to get married at a very young age. I meet students who come from sexually broken backgrounds and others who come from sexually innocent backgrounds. Sometimes these students marry each other. I think chapter 10 has the potential to wreak havoc in such marriages where one spouse will feel a whole range of taboos to be “permissible” if he can convince his spouse to participate. This to me seems like a recipe for marital disaster, and I do not think the Driscolls’ requirement of “helpfulness” mitigates the difficulty …

In Ephesians 5, we learn that every marriage from Adam and Eve until now exists ultimately to give an enacted parable of Christ’s covenant love for His bride. In other words, the purpose of marriage is to glorify Christ—to shine a light on his redemptive love for His people

I love and appreciate the Driscolls, and I am really grateful for the testimony that they share about their own marriage … At the end of the day however, the shortcomings I have identified above keep me from giving Real Marriage an unqualified endorsement. Indeed the theological and pastoral errors of chapter 10 alone are weighty, and they are the primary reason that I would not recommend this book for marriage counseling. There are other books that have many of the strengths of Real Marriage without all the weaknesses.

Wade Burleson, pastor and blogger, encourages us to study Augustine’s writings in light of the New Testament. He points out:

for Augustine sex has a God-given purpose; and without this purpose in  the forefront of the mind, the soul becomes deadened by the lusts for sex When a married person participates in sex for the sake of its pleasures, it becomes like overeating food for the ecstasy of its taste. Damage will occur. Unlike the effects of food overindulgence, the consequences of participating in sex for the sole purpose of pleasure are hidden and unseen. Married couples, according to Augustine, who pursue sex for the sake of its pleasures are commiting a “fault” (culpa).  They have substituted pleasurable sex for God. This fault in a married couple is easily “forgivable” (venialis) because of the goodness of marriage itself, but it is a fault. If left unidentified and unresisted, it will lead to further and deeper bondage and more and more movement away from God.

How radically different is Augustine’s view to that of Driscoll’s and Young’s? I am not saying that Augustine is completely right and that Driscoll and [Ed] Young [author of Sexperiment] are completely wrong; what I’m saying is something may be out of kilter with the pronounced advocacy of enormous pleasurable sex from evangelical pulpits. If we are to believe Augustine, the problem is that those promoting the pleasures of sex are themselves addicts–chained by their lusts. I trust that my four children, all of whom love Christ and read what I write, will realize that Augustine is worth considering on the subject of sex as much as he is on the doctrines of grace.

Deb of The Wartburg Watch, a site for Christians recovering from abusive churches, was understandably unhappy to learn that Driscoll is touring American campuses giving frank talks on sex to Christian student groups. Deb’s daughter recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Driscoll had spoken there in 2009 on his interpretation of the Song of Solomon. Deb writes (emphases in the original):

From my vantage point, Driscoll’s antics have certainly escalated since 2009.  Now that the Driscolls are going around the country peddling their wares (Real Marriage), I find it necessary to speak out once again.  Driscoll reminds me of the indulgence preachers that enraged Martin Luther.  They traveled about Europe conning people into buying worthless pieces of paper.  I believe Driscoll is doing something very similar as he attempts to sell sex and salvation in a little red book, at least that’s how I see it.  I guess you could call Driscoll a 21st century “indulgence” preacher.

I am deeply disturbed by how Mark Driscoll is trying to influence my daughters’ generation with his not so secret agenda, which appears to be:

We love SEX (any form as long as it’s between a married couple), BEER, INDIE ROCK, TATTOOS, BODY PIERCINGS, and DOCTRINE (Neo-Calvinist, of course) — probably IN THAT ORDER.  As we learned from the tragic testimonies published here last week, Mars Hill appears to play for keeps. Based on what these escapees have shared,  Driscoll’s church reminds me of the Eagles’ Hotel California  –  “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave” — unless you are a fired elder whom Driscoll wanted to punch in the nose!

My daughter graduated from UNC last May and was involved with Campus Crusade (now “CRU”) for all four years of college.  She will tell you that Cornerstone (as it is called at Carolina) was a wonderful organization, and I have been grateful for this ministry …

Here is my concern.  When my daughter took on a leadership position in CRU, she was required to read Mark Driscoll’s Radical Reformission before attending a leadership retreat at the start of the school year.  Now that my younger daughter is involved in CRU, I would like to know how closely aligned it is with Mark Driscoll. 

In 2009, Deb’s daughter heard Driscoll speak on the Song of Solomon and asked her afterward:

“If Mark doesn’t tell us about these things, who will?” I immediately said, “Is that what Mark Driscoll claims? That is absolutely not true! You can discuss any sexual topic with me.” She and I have had quite a few “sex talks” before, and that’s probably why she felt comfortable sharing such an intimate question with me. I then went on to explain to her in a very matter-of-fact way why anal sex can have serious health consequences. Prior to this graphic discussion, I had heard a medical expert explain that the vaginal lining is twice as thick as the lining of the rectum, and that’s why anal sex can be dangerous. Remember the E. coli? I shared this information with her and explained that anal sex is just not natural. If God had intended for a married couple to engage in this kind of sex, He would have designed the female body accordingly.

The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a page on the genital human papilloma virus (HPV) (emphases mine):

Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it …

Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.  But, sometimes, HPV infections are not cleared and can cause:

  • Genital warts
  • Rarely, warts in the throat — a condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, or RRP.  When this occurs in children it is called juvenile-onset RRP (JORRP).
  • Cervical cancer and other, less common but serious cancers, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (back of throat including base of tongue and tonsils).

The results of sodomy also show up in an abstract from a medical paper from 1976, ‘The gay bowel syndrome: clinico-pathologic correlation in 260 cases’:

The clinical and pathological findings in a group of 260 homosexual men comprising 10% of a private proctologic practice are reviewed. A clinical pattern of anorectal and colon diseases encountered with unusual frequency in these homosexual patients is termed the gay bowel syndrome. The clinical diagnoses in decreasing order of frequency include condyloma acuminata, hemorrhoids, nonspecific proctitis, anal fistula, perirectal abscess, anal fissure, amebiasis, benign polyps, viral hepatitis, gonorrhea, syphilis, anorectal trauma and foreign bodies, shigellosis, rectal ulcers and lymphogranuloma venereum

Not so exciting now, is it?

Carl Trueman, a Reformed author and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, considers the overemphasis on sex when pastors attempt to ‘engage the culture’:

… The gospel is light; it is truly beautiful.  To wake in the morning and to know that whatever darkness lurks within our hearts, the light of Christ is sufficient to dispel it all is surely glorious.  Why would one even want to dwell in any detail on the deeds of darkness when one could spend time reflecting on the magnificence of God manifest in the flesh?

I have often in the past stood with those who laughed at what we regarded as the ignorant, unsophisticated taboos of the older generation.  But now I worry about the ease with which the rising generation talks explicitly of ‘the fruitless deeds of darkness’ in the name of cultural engagement, fear of being thought passé or simply a desire to slough off the legalisms of their fathers in the faith.    You can, after all, get to heaven without ever having seen an R-Rated art house movie or having enjoyed a spectacular love life … 

A former member of Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church and leader of women’s ministry there now blogs at Practical Theology for Women. She and her husband both read the book and reviewed it. Emphases in the original in the first and sixth paragraphs; the rest in bold are mine:

… in Real Marriage, Mark and Grace recall personal events as the foundation of the book, and they project their conclusions from these personal events onto those reading it. They have brought these things into the public arena and revealed much about intimate areas of their life that affected many people in their public ministry. In light of this, silence on these issues no longer seems the righteous choice …

What stood out earlier as odd about Mark’s perspective of the past was that Grace was humbly reconciling her past, but HE wasn’t! What at first appears to be a book about their marriage is really a book about Grace’s marriage. We actually know very little about Mark’s.   From the beginning of this book, Mark has made passing references to Grace’s mistakes and abuse that lead to difficulty in their marriage, but what about him?  He had been in previous sexual relationships prior to Grace, and with Grace prior to their marriage. What affect had this had on him and how he would view relationships going forward?  Not much is said about this, in fact Mark barely recognizes his responsibility in this at all.

Grace’s words are in passive voice, and she bears the burden of her actions and consequences.  Mark’s words are active, and based on clarity from chapter 11, it is now clear he has initiated this as a process for reconnecting with his wife.   He fails to take responsibility for his part in their shared emotional baggage however, and ultimately Grace bears most of the burden. How have Mark’s previous relationships shaped his needs during sex with his wife?  He describes the change between he and Grace after marriage as unimpressive. He had experience to base this on.   How had his previous relationships influenced him emotionally?  Had previous partners he’d been with left him with scars too?  Had he been abused himself or witnessed abuse he was unable to prevent?

The role that these factors have in the story is described clearly in how Grace was able to relate to Mark, but how had these factors influenced Mark’s ability to relate to Grace?   Did he enter marriage with realistic and fair expectations on her?  He’s made progress apparently, but there is very little attention given to the emotional baggage Mark carries with him. He seemed oddly silent on these issues in his life and let Grace’s story stand on its own.

When viewed as a whole, the end gives context to the beginning and now some pieces fall into place.  This is a story told by the inside voice in Mark’s head about a period in his life when he was a pastor under pressure in a large young church …  He has yet to recognize his own responsibility in much of this, to the point that his wife is publicly apologizing to him for past offenses he participated in himself with seemingly no remorse or consequence on his part. The dichotomy between their viewpoints is striking.

… I remember Mark telling a husband publicly on the church members’ forum during those years that if he didn’t shut his wife up, Mark would do it for him. I hope his regret has caused him to reach out to that family in apology (she was also an abuse victim, sexually exploited by an older youth leader) as they left Mars Hill after that …

In Real Marriage, Mark acknowledges a past problem with pride, but he remains blind to his self-centered view of the church, the extent of his disqualifying anger problem, the true root causes of both in his life, and the long term effects that both have on those around him. When you can flippantly write off 1000 members in your church, including elders, deacons, and community group leaders, because (as he explains it) you’re burnt out based on long standing bitterness and sexual frustration with your wife stemming from a sexual encounter when she was a teenager 19 years before—well, wow, I’m at a loss for exactly how to address that

My biggest concern about Real Marriage, though, is the abundance of references to Jesus, forgiveness, and repentance without a corresponding understanding of the gospel grace that Jesus Himself teaches. I say it often, and this is a clear example – using gospel language and understanding gospel grace are two different things. The best articulations of the gospel in Real Marriage are those given by Grace on p. 126-127 and p. 137-138 as she recounts dealing with her past sexual issues in the light. But there is little corresponding from Mark about facing the wealth of his own sin and deep need. What Mark actually says in the book reveals a poor understanding of Biblical grace, particularly as Jesus describes it in Matthew 18 …

David and Sarah Vanderveen reviewed the book for the Sojourners site. (Yes, this goes against my earlier post about Jim Wallis and the Sojourners, but I found a few points of interest in this article.) The Vanderveens are married with two teenage sons. He said:

… One would hope that the well-regarded Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson would have better editorial oversight and better author management. This book is not only a troublesome read, it dispenses poor general advice, has bad scholarship and is based on a management style that is doomed to failure from the start.

Real Marriage for me wasn’t about marriage relationships at all. It was a cry for help.

Amidst the awkward, embarrassing and problematic style, I think that the book is really an example of the desperate place to which Mark Driscoll’s ministry style has led him.

She said:

The Driscolls barely address the myriad issues that can be root causes of marital strife and sexual dysfunction, including but not limited to: health problems including depression and other mental illness, hormonal imbalance, stress, and different stages of life, whether new baby, empty nest, unemployment, change of employment.

Unfortunately, solving these problems often takes more than Bible study and a pastor’s counsel—though that’s a good place to start.

Real Marriage is a poorly written, poorly researched book by a well-meaning pastor who I believe is struggling with his own sexuality and sense of self-worth. I don’t know how else to explain his weirdly inappropriate fixation on masculinity and specific sexual practices, and his failure to address the complexity of human sexuality and relationships.

It feels to me like he doesn’t really want to understand the whole person, rather he just wants to cut straight to the salacious tidbits. I realize that’s how you sell a lot of books, but still. I get the distinct impression that Driscoll is not a man at peace

So, there you have it. It seems as if Real Marriage is more for itching ears than it is for a yearning soul seeking advice about the sanctity and honourable estate of marriage.

Tomorrow: Another problem with complementarianism

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