A Real Man’s Take on Real Marriage
*** Special thanks for our guest blogger today, Nate Hill!
As I’ve read and talked to others (including my fellow OTH bloggers) about Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book Real Marriage I’ve encountered a fair amount of criticism: where’s the biblical support? Why is someone who speaks so much about gospel transformation seemingly gospeless in his presentation of marriage? Even if the point of the book is not “a theological treatise,” why even write a marriage book that doesn’t have the gospel at the core? How can a pastor be so fixated and blunt about the role of sex and use it to capitalize on growing his church? The list could go on. While recognizing the legitimacy of these criticisms and sharing some of the same concerns, I hope to take a different approach. In the preface, “How Not to Read This Book,” the Driscolls state: “Don’t read as a critic trying to find where you think we might be wrong. Although we seek to be faithful to the Bible, this book is not the Bible, and like you, we are imperfect so there will be mistakes. Take whatever gifts you find in this book, and feel free to leave the rest.” So even though it is difficult to not be a critic at certain points, here is my attempt to “take . . . gifts . . . and . . . leave the rest.”
I appreciate Driscoll’s “hard core” approach. He starts the chapter by calling men to men and start “manning up to their responsibilities in five ways: 1) leave your parents home; 2) finish your education or vocational training; 3) start a career-track job, not a dead-end-Joe job; 4) meet a woman, love, honor her, court her, and marry her; and 5) parent children with her (Gen. 2:24). The problem Driscoll says is that so many boys/men get stuck in an undefined adolescent stage that can carry on from early teens all the way into adulthood. In essence, boy-men never grow up and become chronic consumers. Driscoll refers to this as a reversal of the creation mandate (my own interpretation of what he says). “Men are supposed to be producers, not just consumers” (43) as well as “creators and cultivators” (44). Though Mark does not point out the sin and idolatry that form the root of this consumerism and the gospel solution, he does connect this problem to not imaging God properly.
Next, Driscoll points out that the key to being a real man is to be both tough and tender like Jesus. “Jesus was tough enough to go to the cross without shedding a tear. And Jesus was tender enough to weep over the death of His friend” (45). The problem, however, our tendency to err on one side or the other and never truly “man up” as Jesus did for us. Often our errant views of manhood work themselves out in extremes that Pastor Driscoll refers to as “Tough Chauvinists” or “Tender Cowards.”
The tough chauvinist can take on several forms. Some believe that being a man is wrapped up in being the complete antithesis of a woman. Another manifestation comes in the guy who is stuck on himself, his accomplishments, his superiority, and so on. “You never have to ask this guy what his latest victory is, because he’ll make sure to tell you what a winner he is” (45). The tough chauvinist can come across as a bully. You don’t want to make this guy mad: he’s a tough guy and he’ll let you know it. His wife is afraid to contradict anything he says out of fear of the consequences. He’s a controlling bully. Finally, you have the “I’m the boss” type who relishes in being in charge. As long as he gets his way he’s happy. This type of guy shows little stability because he’s only content somewhere as long as he’s getting his way. These guys go “from church to church declaring they cannot find a good one, and by ‘good church’ they mean one led by a pastor dumb enough to take orders” (46).
On the other hand you have the tender coward who lives a disorganized life, has a hard time getting a job and keeping it because jobs get in the way of his friends and hobbies. As a result, he’s unable to pay his bills, look after himself, and support a family. Or he may be the type that is present in body but absent in spirit. Though he fulfills his physical responsibilities such as working, making repairs around the house, etc., “he’s always doing something other than connecting with his family.” Another manifestation of the tender coward is one who gets it right spiritually, but ultimately fails to care for and connect with his family.
I appreciate the gospel connection that Pastor Mark uses to wrap up this section. He states, “the key to understanding masculinity is Jesus Christ.” Jesus “took responsibility for us on the cross, where He substituted Himself and died in our place for our sins. My sins are my fault, not Jesus’ fault, but Jesus has made them His responsibility. This is the essence of the gospel, the ‘good news.’ If you understand this, it will change how you view masculinity” (47).
Third, he deals with the wife’s perspective on marriage, and encourages the husband to step into her shoes. As is his style, Mark says poignantly, “Gentlemen, it is a terrifying thing for a woman to trust a sinful man. Will he take responsibility or dump it all on her? Will he be too tough and crush her? Will he be too tender and allow her to be crushed?” (48). He bases this section on I Peter 3:7, where men are instructed to live with their wives in an understanding way. From this overarching principle, Driscoll derives five specific applications to help husbands fulfill this biblical mandate of honoring/loving/living in an understanding way: 1) Honor Your Wife Physically; 2) Honor Your Wife Emotionally; 3) Honor Your Wife Verbally; 4) Honor Your Wife Financially; and 5) Honor Your Wife Technologically.
No doubt there is a ton of practical help in this section that is informed by sound wisdom. For example, put down your smart phone, close your laptop, turn off your HDTV and spend some time conversing with your wife (rebuke to me). However, because there is little connection to the gospel as the solution to the husband’s failure to love his wife properly and live in an understanding way, I won’t spend much time here. I would encourage husbands to think through the five wisdom principles listed above and consider what causes you to be physically, emotionally, verbally, financially, and technologically disconnected and insensitive toward your wife. What is at the root of your verbal and/or physical abuse? Why do you continually neglect your wife and family to be entertained by ball games, violence, and so on? Could it be that your desire for/worship of respect, relaxation, comfort, productivity, etc. have trumped the call for you to demonstrate your love for and worship of Jesus, who always sacrifices himself for the good of his bride even when it was annoying and inconvenient for him? Christ has rescued you from the sin that may be destroying your marriage at this very moment, and I encourage you to run to him, fall before him, and worship at his feet. Allow him to bring the healing and restoration your marriage.
Next, Pastor Mark differentiates between marriage as a contract and marriage as a covenant. As a contract, if either party fails to uphold their end of the deal, it only makes sense that the “business agreement” would end in divorce. However, as is pointed out, Scripture does not view marriage as a contract but as a covenant. Driscoll does a good job of proving the covenant idea from Scripture, starting in Genesis 1 and taking us through Paul’s teaching. He also deals with the complementary roles of the marriage covenant, especially the husband’s role and responsibility as head. He spends a lot of time and provides numerous practical examples of what headship looks like for the husband (taking the lead, taking responsibility, caring for his family), but fails to provide the why … the basis … the motivation for fulfilling the role as covenant head. Though he references Jesus as the supreme head, he fails to make the connection to Jesus as the example and motivation for the husband fulfilling his role as the “little ‘h’ head.” I think a simple paragraph would have been sufficient to accomplish this piece, so I’m not sure why it was left out.
Fifth, husbands are encouraged to get “involved in a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, conservative Christian church” (58). This section is largely statistically/research based rather than biblically developed. Again, there are a lot of practical pointers and statistical encouragement available in these pages. Pastor Mark speaks to the benefits of the church community for the marriage relationship. While these community aspects of church life are clearly biblical (Heb. 10:24-25) and necessary, no such link to scripture is made in this portion of the chapter. I believe this quote serves as a good summary of the section: “What do all these statistics mean to you? If your marriage is in trouble and you are not in a good church, connecting with one is an urgent matter. And if your marriage is not in crisis, then please seek to stay connect in the community at a good church to help safeguard your marriage.”
Sixth, husbands are encouraged to develop agreement on a theology of marriage. Driscoll makes a helpful statement when he says, “ Rather than fighting with each other about what is right and wrong, together you fight for each other, seeking to honor your shared biblical convictions” (60). The concept of fighting for one another instead of against one another, though not profound, serves as a good reminder.
Finally, before concluding with a few tips for guys, this seventh section encourages husbands to lead their wives in worshipping together at home. Again, though there is no biblical development or gospel motivation, Pastor Mark makes a helpful statement when he says, “The Bible commands husbands to be in the Scriptures with their wives regularly (Eph. 5:25-26). The Bible invites studious wives to take their biblical and theological questions to their husbands with the assumption that they know their Bible. If a husband doesn’t have an answer, he should lovingly do his homework to help his wife grow spiritually (1 Cor. 14:35). The Bible also commands fathers as ‘pastor dads’ to spiritually raise up their children (Eph. 5:4).” In the busy-ness of life, this serves as a helpful reminder to shepherd my family as Christ shepherds well his family (the church).
In conclusion, I’m grateful to Mark and Grace for their labors in writing this book. It is full of practical wisdom and helpful information. My only admonition would be to remember that Jesus is always the ultimate answer to all of our marriage problems. While statistics, research, and personal experiences are helpful, it is the gospel that ultimately brings change. It brings us from darkness into light. It carries us through the Christian life providing us with the ability to change. One day it will see us through to the long-awaited, much-anticipated day when Christ will return and set all things right – a day when we will experience the ultimate marriage relationship–the marriage feast of the lamb. So if you are struggling in your marriage or trying to help someone who is, look to the Savior who never has and never will fail his bride.