Book Review-Real Marriage, one woman’s perspective

by Trillia Newbell

Real MarriageAfter reading Tim Challies review of Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll, I wanted to see what others were saying. I went on over to Amazon and there were many mixed reviews but I couldn’t find any from women. I may have simply missed it. After some thought and prayer (since Challies did not think it was appropriate for women, namely his wife) I spoke with my husband and read most of the book. I write most because I skipped the chapter devoted to men (Men and Marriage) and skimmed through chapters Disgrace and Grace and The Porn Path.  I believe I read enough to give you an honest take on the book from a woman’s perspective.

The Good

The Driscoll’s opened up their life and marriage and gave a very clear view from the inside. There is no doubt that they are speaking from their personal experience, ministry and heart. It was vulnerable and raw and there is also no doubt it was honest. The speech wasn’t calculated and religious but completely relatable. Grace confessed very humbling sin and Mark shared about his misplaced priorities and idolatry.

There were times when I felt like I was sitting across the table from them as they poured out their hearts to me. I cried, I was nervous, I was embarrassed along with them. I was also hopeful, excited and thankful that God restored their marriage. I am sure they are a gift to their church and to their friends. I am confident that God will use their story to help many struggling marriages. Their openness and honesty is what is good about the book. They are real people trying to fight the fight of faith together, and it’s hard.

Grace Driscoll shared great tips and advice on how to respect husbands in Chapter 4. I specifically enjoyed her writing on encouragement. At one point she wrote, “A wife is the most powerful person in her husband’s life..” I whole-heartedly agree. I am an encourager and if I’m not first and foremost encouraging my husband, my priorities and potentially my motives may be misplaced. I was specifically struck by the part about lecturing. I can fall into lecture mode if I don’t see something I like. This isn’t respectful to my husband and I thank Grace Driscoll for addressing these issues. It’s always good to be reminded of ways to grow in respect to my husband!

The Bad

I agreed with Challies that there didn’t seem to be a clear gospel message. I felt like this was more like a memoir/”how to” book rather than a theologically based book on marriage. There were plenty of biblical references, mostly from Song of Songs, but I just didn’t get the sense that God was the power we’d draw from because of Jesus’ work on the Cross for change.  I could see men and women striving to this level of intimacy without the grace of God. It at times seemed like, “here’s what you need to do if you want a good marriage;  now do it.” That may not be how Driscoll intended it to come out, but that is how I interpreted it.

Real Marriage also made me more concerned for pastors who are not governed by other pastors or the church, who do not have a team, or who  are not a part of a formal organization. Maybe this should go under the “good” category above because it has led me to pray for pastors. Do many pastors give their lives away to their ministries at any and all costs? Are congregants life suckers, sucking the life out of pastors and preachers? Do young pastors need more checks and balances? I just felt an overwhelming concern for pastors everywhere. What horrible pressures they place on themselves, at least Driscoll did. By the grace of God, he shares how God helped him to realize this and make changes. It took a decade of giving, sacrificing his family, and being absolutely miserable.

The Ugly

The book could just as easily been named Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex . I’m concerned that much of the book may put unnecessary pressure on couples to perform acts that they just aren’t comfortable with as a way to die to themselves.  Driscoll notes that “the biblical pattern of for Christian marriage is free and frequent sex.” The problem is his interpretation of “free”. From a women’s perspective, his interpretation could led to women being abused and men being tempted.

Driscoll goes into specific detail on what can and cannot not be done in the marriage bed.  In Chapter 10, “Can We______?” Driscoll lists do’s and don’ts and most of everything listed he argues is acceptable to some degree or another. What the Driscoll’s do in their private homes is completely their business. I am not condemning them. What I didn’t see were clear biblical references or guidance in these areas. Many of the questions and answers seemed worldly.  He gave statistics (lots of them) about each topic, statistics for example of how many people and what age group was performing oral sex. What significance does this have for the Christian? Why do we need to know how many people were doing it? Was it merely to prove the importance of the question or shall I say the relevance of it? I kept thinking of this scripture as I read: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world,” (James 1:27 ESV).

At one point Driscoll explains that cosmetic surgery is not only permissible but can be helpful. Helpful because you have had an accident and are disfigured?; Helpful because you have a birth mark or have some circumstance that makes it uncomfortable to be the way you are? No, Driscoll shares, “There are many reasons cosmetic surgery may be beneficial. It can make us more attractive to our spouses. And if our appearance is improved, we feel more comfortable being seen naked by our spouses, which can increase our freedom in lovemaking,” (Chapter 10: “Can We___?”). I respectfully disagree. Where do we see this in scripture?  Scripture says: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well,” (Psalm 139:13-14 ESV). I imagine that even the women who made the Dove commercial would be confused and concerned by Driscoll’s logic here.

My biggest concern is for women whose husbands may read this and may try to apply the teaching without the full consent of their wife. I’m afraid a man could read this and become: 1)discontent in their marriage: “Why won’t my wife do xyz?” “My wife is selfish because she won’t, fill in the blank?”; 2) place unnecessary pressures on their wife; 3) be tempted to find someone who will perform these acts. Driscoll in no way at all would want his book to have this affect but as I read it, from a woman’s perspective I could very easily see a weak man succumbing to these temptations.  I say weak meaning weak in faith, weak possibly because he is already in a struggling marriage or weak because he is a new Christian.

Another concern is that women could simply be condemned. The book asks for us to be vulnerable, open to things, respectful of our husband’s wishes and active in every way. I believe wholeheartedly that sex in the confines of marriage is a wonderful, beautiful, exciting and invigorating gift from the Lord! I’m so glad God made us this way! But, I think that when we add tasks that are extra biblical it can be dangerous. And for the woman who is conservative but still satisfying her husband this book could be condemning. I imagine the questions:  “Am I good enough for my husband?” and “Am I selfish because I won’t do xyz though I hate the idea of it but my husband really wants to?”

Scripture commands husbands to:  “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;  be intoxicated always in her love,” (Proverbs 5:18-19 ESV).  It doesn’t say, “Let her breasts fill you unless she has had babies and they are no longer the breasts of her youth.”  As a matter of fact, God doesn’t speak too much of what is in the book, which is another reason why I am cautious about applying what I’ve read.


The Driscoll’s story is powerful, sad at times, and a testimony of the power of the gospel and work of the Spirit. Mark’s leadership in pursuing change is to be commended. But, I am not convinced that their method needs to be applied to every marriage, every situation. Challies wasn’t excited about the idea of his wife reading the book, I’m not sure I want my husband or my husband’s friends to. I’m afraid it could plant questions or ideas that may not have been there before. I also think, many of it, is just unnecessary for a loving, intimate, long marriage and friendship.




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4 Comments to “Book Review-Real Marriage, one woman’s perspective”

  1. Wow, Trillia! I haven’t had a chance to stay caught up on Challies’ blog. So, I was clueless on this. We bought the book … blindly I see. I’m so grateful I saw this. Will be sharing this with my husband! Thanks for your honest review.

  2. admin says:

    You are welcome Leigh Ann. It was a difficult read- when you love someone’s ministry and hope the best for them but then you read something that isn’t necessary- kind of tough. Feel free to share the review. Have a wonderful day!

  3. Thomas Smith says:

    REAL sexual intimacy must bloom out of healthy relational intimacy. Relational intimacy in its most pure form is ONLY achieved within the God blessed covenant of marriage as the 2 relationally become 1 and walk circumspect before God IN CHRIST JESUS. Sexual intimacy is the blooming flower of the pure relational intimacy we have in Christ. There is no better sex than that PERIOD! “Good sex” is rooted in healthy and authentic relational intimacy, NOT a new technique, sexy outfit or improvement of a physical attribute. Don’t get me wrong, those are all good things and there is nothing inherently wrong in them when they are done with pure motivation (not out of obligation or pressure) but these are external and relational intimacy occurs in the heart and soul. If the soul isn’t right then external improvements are only band aids on a deeper problem that dont fix anything. In that sense, this book seems to be handing out band aids.

    In this fallen society of Man apart from Christ, the world has separated the act of sex from the context of covenantal marital intimacy so that it has become an end unto itself; a lustful exploration rooted in sexual gratification defined by new boundary pushing experiences. Driscoll’s book seems to me to have this world’s perversion of sexual intimacy finger prints all over it. Like the world he seems to elevate the ACT of sex to stand alone as an activity to pursue, in effect idolizing the ACT of sex. Mr. Driscoll seems to be saying “Seek better sex first and your marriage will be better because of it” in contrast to the biblical standard of: “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these other things will be added unto you”.

    What happens between a husband and wife in their marriage bed is sacred between THEM! I personally reject the idea that we as Christians need “sex educators” when that means outlining sexual activities or standards for what happens in the marriage bed. Sure we NEED to talk about and encourage one another on to more Christ like love within marriage, but the act of sex is private and sacred between a husband and wife and to me, this book crosses that sacred line consequently, serving only to taint and confuse the marriage bed with worldly influence.

  4. Thomas Smith says:

    I guess what I was trying to say in a very roundabout way is that if there is a perceived problem in the marriage bed, the problem isn’t going to be that our spouse isn’t daring enough or has a nice enough body, ithe problem will reside in our sinful hearts and at its root will be our own selfish desire.