Having set the stage with my preliminaries, let me now engage with Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage. Let me begin by saying that it is a very fine book over all.
Before getting to the sections that call out for more discussion and some yeahbuts, let me mention first why this book is going to do a lot of good. I have been counseling couples for 35 years or so, and am happy to report that the Driscolls lay a firm gospel foundation for marriage, they understand the centrality of love and respect for men and women respectively, they are ruthless with some of the central marriage busters (bitterness, porn, selfishness, etc), they do not allow the realities of past abuse to become an excuse for sin, and they are transparent about their own failings without falling into the TMI trap. All in all, very well done. As I was reading, I kept thinking of couples who would be helped by it.
Ah, but that’s not why you are reading this, are you? There are several pages, and several sections of advice that are mistaken and unfortunate. And of course, this sort of thing is like finding a caterpillar in your salad. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the salad is still perfectly fine does not serve to allay your concerns. You still have words with the waiter.
In this review I want to address these mistakes, but I also want to deal with the reasons for the problems. One critic dismissed this book as just one more example of how “sex sells.” Well, sex does sell, but there is more than one reason why it does.
The obvious reason has to do with the alluring nature of lust. She unbuttons just one more, and off he goes like an ox to the slaughter, lowing with anticipation.
But another reason sex sells is that an awful lot of people are sexually broken, beat up and by the side of the Jericho road. And a clergyman passed by, crossed over to the other side of the road — he was late for a meeting where he was going to just “preach the gospel.” When people are broken (and I am speaking of Christian people here), their interest in this subject need not be prurient — they want to know how they are supposed to be living. And when you bring as many people to the Lord as Driscoll has, and you do it in a place like Seattle, you are going to see them track a lot of stuff in. And unfortunately, the Driscolls have a hermeneutic that, if it were a vacuum cleaner, is not able to pick up everything that is tracked in.
That said, I really like the the three questions that the Driscolls ask about each one of the questions they raise: is it lawful? Is it helpful? Is it possibly enslaving? I like the questions, and I like (for the most part) how they are answered.
The gospel is not a hovercraft, skimming over the ponds of our respectable little lives. The gospel is a backhoe, and it digs up our dirt. In that spirit, let us apply the gospel to these questions.
There are a few basic reasons why I would answer the question about the lawfulness of anal intercourse within marriage differently than the Driscolls did, but they have to do with differences in our general approach to cultural issues. As a presbyterian, I am far more comfortable with reasoning from Scripture by “good and necessary consequence,” and as a thorough-going Kuyperian, I am far more interested in bringing the moral authority of Scripture to bear in all the nooks and crannies — all in a cheerful and non-legalistic spirit. In other words, I believe that they answered these particular questions the way they did because they are good people with a hermeneutic that let them down. Perhaps I can write more on that later.
In what follows here, I am going to concentrate on the issue of anal intercourse. Some of what I say will apply (to a lesser extent) to some of the other related questions (sex toys, or sex during a woman’s period), but I will address those questions more fully in a later post. So, that said, I would say that anal intercourse within marriage is unnatural, unhealthy, unclean, and unnecessary. Just a quick note on each.
Paul talks about those men who abandon what he calls the “natural use” of the women, and turn instead to men. He is not just saying that it is wrong to turn from a woman to a man, he says that these men are turning from the natural use of a woman to an unnatural use of a man. When people do not know God, the result is not just that they “break rules” with their bodies, but rather it is that they “dishonor their bodies” (Rom. 1:24). When this happens, they are abandoned to dishonorable passions (Rom. 1:26). Men commit shameless acts with other men (Rom. 1:27), having abandoned the “natural use” of the woman (Rom. 1:26). Now when Paul is talking about the natural use of the woman, this refers to more than the fact that it is with a woman. If it is possible to turn from a natural use of the woman to an unnatural use of a man, then how could it be impossible to to turn from the natural use of a woman to an unnatural use of a woman?
There are more words that we have to use in our evaluation than lawful, helpful, or enslaving. We should also consider natural, unnatural, honorable, dishonorable, shameful, and so on. Now in order to be able to say that a particular activity between a married man and woman is “unnatural,” it should be obvious that we need to have a hermeneutic of nature.
Secondly, it is unhealthy. The Driscolls section on porn is very helpful, and discusses in great detail what porn usage does to the neural pathways of the brain. They rely — appropriately — on what medical science can teach us about this. But there is a body of information available about the potential health hazards that accompany this kind of practice, and this would have been a good place to include that information. Unfortunately, we live in a homosexualized culture where accurate medical information about what this kind of activity does to the body is going to be increasingly hard to come by. Nobody wants to be the author of the great “hate crime” medical study. But as an unnatural use of the body, as an insult to the body, the unhealthy consequences should not be surprising
Third, sex is clean and feces are dirty. Given the sexual history that so many new believers have (which the Driscolls deal with ably here), a history of sin, abuse, degradation, and so forth, pastors who work with struggling Christians on this subject have their hands full already. It is hard enough to convince such people that good clean sex is clean. Broadening the scope of available behaviors in this way is guaranteed to cripple the message. In the homosexual world, this kind of thing has a pull because it is taboo, because it is dirty. Defining as clean and holy that which sets the standard of “dirty” is what I would call a hard sell. It is a hard sell for a reason.
Fourth, it is unnecessary. But this word is going to be defined differently by a contented man and by a lust-filled man. I believe that when it comes to things like this, we should give a lot more time to the 1 Thess. 4:5 principle I discussed earlier. The passionate lust of those who do not know God has particular characteristics, which Christians should know and understand.
One of those defining characteristics is this: the leech always cries out for more. The yearning gonads of a man who does not know God is at war with limits. He hates limits; he hates boundaries. This is why he wants anything to be a sex organ if possible, and anyone else to be a sex partner, if possible. Lust wants from a finite thing what only the infinite can provide. Like the Stones, lust can’t get no satisfaction. Something else, anything else, is necessary for him. But not for someone who is not at war with creational limits.
A godly couple has a rollicking good time when the kids are all asleep, and afterwards they say, “That was fun. Let’s do it again sometime soon.” The ravenous man, who wants to sate a gargantuan appetite with an anise seed, has to go on a sexual snipe hunt. He can do that for a long time, but until he finds contentment in Christ, he will never find what he is looking for.
Early in the book the Driscolls rightly reject the canard that divorce rates among Christians and non-Christians are basically the same. They point out, quite correctly, that engaged, serious Christians have marriages and families that are much more solid than their non-believing counterparts. But when it comes to various sexual practices, the statistics they cite are broken out by age, marital status, sex, but not by faith or faith commitments.
Having said all this, it is important to note that the Driscolls were not urging couples to take it up. This whole discussion is the result of them fielding numerous questions asked of them by new Christians who didn’t know what the Bible had to say. I sympathize with their dilemma. This is a complicated and sensitive subject, and some of the most trusted voices in the church have been silent on it. When the subject is broached, in this day and age, a quick dismissal won’t cut it. It is true that anal intercourse of any kind was defined as sodomy a generation ago. But so was any kind of oral sex, and our legal strictures were restrictive enough to make the Shulamite a sodomite. Which she wasn’t.
So then, this is clearly something we need to talk about, and work through. The Driscolls’ book has put the subject in play, and we have ourselves a controversy. One of the things we should learn, when confronted with such controversy, is how to be good stewards of it. We have ourselves a situation. Let us try to turn a profit on it.