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Honest, and helpful, but nothing new
on 5 January 2012
Mark Driscoll needs little introduction. One of the most well-known pastors in America, the bad boy of `New Calvinism', he is certainly a polarising figure in contemporary evangelicalism, and so it was not without some interest and a little trepidation that I approached his new book, written with his wife Grace, on marriage.
To be fair, Driscoll has stepped back from his `cussing' ways, and given his reputation, the language in this book was generally pretty mild. In the chapter written directly to men, he didn't pull any punches, and calls bluntly for guys to grow up, and stop being boys who shave. Despite how some of his critics tend to portray him, Driscoll, in this book, rejects the blokey, physcial-oriented stereotype of masculinity, instead pointing out how true masculinity is about being a provider and a caring leader - being tender with one's family, and tough in protecting them. His wife, Grace, also writes a chapter directly to women, and while both clearly embrace complimentarian theology, she does a good job of dissembling the common stereotypes and misunderstandings of what that means, showing what submission & respect is and isn't (though committed egalitarians will no doubt disagree).
The Driscolls have written this book out of the experience of years of ministry and counselling, as well having to work through some deep and serious issues in their own marriage. In this respect, there are parts of the book which are raw, and brutally honest, as well as parts which give advice learned through the school of hard knocks. Thankfully, this is not a picture perfect couple telling us how to be all smiley, but a couple who have had to deal with serious brokenness and point to the gospel as the foundation of healing, and a solid marriage.
The middle section contains a number of chapters focused on sex, with a big reliance on (a somewhat questionable interpretation of) Song of Solomon. Issues such as abuse and pornography are dealt very seriously. This section also deals with the `can we...' questions, which we're told they are frequently asked when they teach on this subject. They helpfully offer a framework of asking 3 questions of any act in question: 1. Is it lawful? (biblically and legally) 2. Is it helpful? (does it build up) 3. Is it enslaving? They proceed to run a number of common examples through this. This feels a little overdone, in that a couple of examples to show the process would have sufficed, and let the reader do it themselves, rather than showing their answers on so many of the examples. As it is, it reads a little too much like the Driscolls giving their approval or not for various things (although I don't think this is at all what they meant). Another place where it felt a little too much like the Driscolls giving the reader too many specifics rather than principles, is when they begin to suggest what `date night' and other such things might look like. I can understand why they give examples, but to those of us outside of the suburban, middle-class context they are in, it just feels a little too much. Some people may, however, find them more useful.
From a structural point of view, the ending needs work. The closing paragraph of the book came at the end of a chapter about `reverse-engineering' your marriage (i.e. working backwards from where you see yourself in the future) and just felt rather jarring. It would have been better to have a short chapter recapping the big points of the book.
In many ways, there is not really anything `new' in this book, that others have not already written (it seems to be a bit of a Driscoll thing for him to rediscover the wheel as he goes along) but that is not necessarily a bad thing - they are old, true principles. There is a lot of great, timely, biblical writing about marriage, sometimes put in a way that only Driscoll could put it. Sometimes his style grates , but I hope that it doesn't get in the way of what is otherwise challenging stuff.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.