Real Marriage: Heeding Pragmatism Over Biblical Criticism?

Mark and Grace Driscoll’s new book Real Marriage has drawn much attention. The attention comes partly due to its content and partly due to some critical reviews.123 Denny Burk probably offers the most thoroughly biblical critique to date.

Today Burk linked to an article on CNN’s belief blog titled “Pastor’s detailed book on sex divides reviewers, sparks controversy.”4 The CNN article provides a few interesting responses by Mark Driscoll to his critics. I would like to briefly consider Driscoll’s responses from the CNN article.

First, I would like to explain why I am responding. My initial reading of Driscoll’s comments did not go down well. Driscoll has a lot influence in certain parts of Christendom and he continues to push and market for more reach. He has access to a secular audience (e.g. CNN religion blog) that many Christians will never have. He is a pastor-teacher which comes with a greater responsibility as noted in Scripture in James chapter 3, for example. The more popular critical reviews are from well-known bloggers who are essentially on Driscoll’s side theologically.

Also, Driscoll was asked less than a year ago in an interview in Tabletalk magazine, “What have you learned from those who have criticized your ministry and has your life or ministry changed in any way as a result?”5 Driscoll answered with the following six points offering six categories of criticism.

  1. Theological – I simply have to accept the conflict if we have differing beliefs about an essential issue.
  2. Jealous of Success – I need to lovingly serve them in humility.
  3. Misinformed – I need to try and inform them of the truth.
  4. Personal Dislike (e.g., tone, humor, style) – I need to consider their criticism, seek godly counsel, and either change or ignore them.
  5. Legitimate (e.g., sin) – I need to repent publicly and thank God for using my critics to sanctify me.
  6. Take Up Offense for Another Person – I need to rebuke them for meddling.

Given those observations on the critics, responsibility and Driscoll’s own answer to dealing with critics, one should find it hard to believe the Driscoll seemingly dismisses the critical book reviews. He also does not seem to be following his own advice and, furthermore, has not even read the critical reviews as will be shown from the CNN article quotes which follow.

CNN quotes Driscoll about his critics.

When asked to respond to his critics, Driscoll said he hadn’t read any of the reviews but that “sometimes reviewers will reveal more of their own struggles than actual problems with the book.”

Driscoll’s allegation about peoples’ struggles may be true. However, when the criticisms are run through a biblical lens it is unhelpful and disrespectful to create a general category of motive and throw everyone into it. How fair would it be to reply that sometimes Christian authors will not read critical reviews because it reveals their own struggles with trying to actually teach the Bible? Also, since he hasn’t even read the reviews, how would he know whether or not the criticisms are valid?

“I am not backing down from it. I am going to stick to my guns on it,” Mark Driscoll said. “This is not just stuff that I have pulled out of my mind. These are issues I have dealt with for 15 years and it is battle tested.”

All Christians have some form of battle tested experience. Having experiences does not automatically translate into using these them as teachable moments for others. Even when particular experiences are used to teach others it may be difficult at times for the one who went through the experience to best biblically discern how to teach from such an experience. Christians are to seek wise counsel from others. (Cf. Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Prov. 19:20 ESV)

[Driscoll] went on to say that the negative attention is just part of writing a book like “Real Marriage.” Looking at himself in that light, Driscoll said the controversy is worth it if marriages are helped by the book.

“I will endure as much criticism as necessary to help as many people as I can,” concluded Driscoll.

At this point one can infer that Driscoll is heeding pragmatism over biblical criticism. Driscoll’s book may help some marriages, but what is meant by help? Is some help is better than no help? Is this marital help the best biblically available? When pragmatism becomes the guide for Christians to make and justify decisions just about anything can be excused.

For example, the review of The Shack on this blog alone has hundreds on comments, many of which praise the book for helping them have a closer relationship with God.6 However, Driscoll himself has biblically criticized this work of fiction that many have praised for its spiritual help.

In the end, I hope Driscoll will read and consider the biblical criticisms of Real Marriage. I hope he exegetically explains why he disagrees with his critics. On the other hand, if his critics are found biblically justified I pray he repents as he said he would in his Tabletalk interview. I would also remind those who are not part of Driscoll’s congregation that he is not your pastor.7

The way Mark Driscoll handles his biblical critics can provide a great example, or a poor example, of how to respond to this battle tested issue of criticism.

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tagged as , , in morality,relativism,theology

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Suzanne January 7, 2012 at 12:20 am

I think Phil Johnson said it best while being intervewed on Wretched Radio yesterday…(paraphrased) “one may pick a hot dog out of a garbage can, eat it and get nutrition from it, but who wants to get their food from a garbage can?”
(excellent Jan 5th hour1 show by the way)

2 Joshua January 7, 2012 at 12:38 am

Good post Mark. I am interested in who read the book prior to publishing and what editing took place because of “Godly counsel” outside of the Mars Hill circle. There is no reason Driscoll is obligated to release such information but it would be interesting to know if he “went alone” on this or not.

I haven’t read the book and probably won’t.

3 BDW January 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm

What’s this about “Godly counsel”? Authors, including Christian authors, may allow a friend or two to read the manuscript and request their input (any input is likely to involve only minor suggestions of course). I don’t think this is required though. Your reference to “Godly counsel” seems to imply that manuscripts go thru some sort of peer-review process.

Most authors “go alone.” Frankly, if the author is not really “going alone,” other names should be included on the book’s front-cover. This book is the work of the Driscolls just as any other similar book is the work of that author.

I did see this morning – and I don’t know why my TV was tuned to this channel! – that Driscoll is going to be interviewed on HLN by Dr. Drew of late-night sex talk show fame.

4 Mark January 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm


That is uh….interesting that Driscoll is going to be interviewed by Dr. Drew. I would like to see it.

I am not claiming that manuscripts do or must go through peer-review and I don’t think that giving godly counsel to an author means being a co-author. In this instance Driscoll seems to admit that he will ignore any counsel regardless.

The thing he that Driscoll knew, as evidenced by the “warning” in the book, that what he would write would be controversial. Did he seek godly counsel before writing those sections? I have no idea, but his “warning” seems to be an excuse rather than a pastoral reason for the controversial sections.

Someone could have given him godly counsel and simply told him that those sections of the book are not edifying for the body and that he may want to reconsider his understanding of 1 Corinthians 6:12 as Denny Burk stated in his review. I’m comfortable believing that the godly counselor in these examples would not have to be listed as a co-author.

5 Joshua January 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm


If you are going write a controversial book on sex and marriage I would suggest having a few wise Christian brothers read the book and give you counsel as to whether you are out of bounds. That is all I meant. It it required? Of course not. Just wise.

6 BDW January 7, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I’d like to see Dr. Drew bring back old sidekick Adam Corrolla to interview Driscoll. Now that would be interesting!

I think Driscoll sees himself as a trailblazer. He’s going where other Christian authors have not gone with his very frank and explicit sex talk. Driscoll probably knows what most folks would say about such frank talk to begin with. He’s choosing to go where others refuse.

That seems to be his style. Honestly, I think Driscoll has the potential to do far far more damage than someone like Rob Bell. His audience is only growing and it looks like Dr. Drew is just the start of a media tour. I believe the promo I saw said the interview would be Monday at 9pm. I’m gonna DVR it and watch after Bama-LSU.

7 Zack January 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Joshua: In response to your first comment regarding editing, I found it interesting to note that one of Tim Challies’s reviews of Real Marriage, (hyperlinked above), contained some interesting observations about the lack of editing from a publishing/formatting standpoint. While editing for formatting is certainly not the same thing as editing for content, I think it’s certainly possible that a lack of format editing could possibly be indicative of a lack of general content editing. If nothing else, when a book publisher like Challies immediately notices some simple formatting inconsistencies, it makes me curious about the general writing process behind the book.

8 Anonymous January 7, 2012 at 9:27 pm

it makes me curious about the general writing process behind the book

I’m curious about this too, after reading Challies’s comments on this aspect, as well. I immediately noted that this book is released by Thomas Nelson, not exactly known for literary excellence. I would be willing to guess that Mark’s book was looked over in-house (Mars Hill) but too quickly — if you recall, he tweeted a few times about trying to get the book done quickly or something like that — and then passed on to Nelson, where like other Nelson books, it did not receive the kind of editing for theological content and literary quality that books at other publishers receive.

9 kevin January 9, 2012 at 10:58 pm

How about you read the book, listen to the sermons, and then think about the lives that have been changed. No, I don’t go to Mars Hill and I don’t even live on the west coast. I come from an unsaved family where I was introduced to Jesus my whole life in “the Bible Belt.” God saved me when I was 20 and He has been so faithful! Mark is saying things that many have needed to hear and especially in his region of the country. Seattle is NOTHING like Atlanta. PS- why don’t you go watch the last sermon series from Mars Hill?

Same Team.

10 Mark January 9, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Kevin, you talkin’ to me? (Sorry, I can’t do the voice over the internet.)

Do you realize what this post is about? Did I directly criticize the book as my main point?

11 Brad Ogden January 28, 2012 at 10:56 pm

For the most part, I agree with Anonymous. Though I question why the book first? Most pastors that I read or follow, generally preach the topic first, then write the book. It appears it was released as a build up to the sermon series. So if you have read the book, why follow the series? Would I recommend the book? No. Would I criticize someone for reading it? No, it is just another book. A better read would be The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller or The Complete Husband by Lou Priolo.


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