Biblical masculinity isn’t a new trend in Christian culture, but it has been gaining a lot more attention recently. The success of the Sherwood Brothers film Courageous, which gained mainstream media attention and focused on fathers taking a “courageous” stand to protect and lead their families, is just one example (See my series of reviews on the film Courageous #1, Courageous #2, Courageous #3). By November 2011 Courageous had grossed over $30 million and was ranked by Box Office Mojo as one of the top 100 films of the year. Mark and Grace Driscoll’s new book Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship & Life Together is another. It was number one on the New York Times Best Seller list in January and stayed in the top 15 “Hardcover Advice & Misc.” until mid February 2012.
On the surface the concept of letting men be men seems harmless enough. After all, Biblical masculinity can be traced back to the famous evangelist and baseball player Billy Sunday who used sports metaphors and masculine language to refer to God and Jesus. It expanded from there with the Promise Keepers movement in the 1990s and then on the John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart. Now, Mark Driscoll continues the quest to masculinize Christianity in his book Real Marriage.
Driscoll’s new book has caused controversy among conservative evangelicals for being to graphic about sex and among moderate and liberal evangelicals for being chauvinistic. As I read Real Marriage several disturbing trends popped out to me. First, there is the focus on the wife constantly pleasing her husband. In the first chapter Mark discusses how, when first married, he was less than satisfied with his sex life and how he and his wife began to drift apart as a result. This is certainly not an unusual occurrence for couples and something that everyone has to work through, but for Driscoll the answer always comes back to sex and his wife pleasing him sexually.
Another example of the extreme control and Mark’s obsession of his wife “pleasing” him is seen when Grace is pregnant with their first child. She decides to go and get a shorter hair cut (what Mark calls a mommish haircut). Mark disapproves and shows his disapproval to Grace. As he says “She had put a mom’s need for convenience before being a wife. She wept.”
Really? Your wife can’t cut her hair in a style she likes? However, that is mild compared to a dream Mark shares in the same chapter.
One night, as we approached the birth of our first child, Ashley, and the launch of our church, I had a dream in which I saw some things that shook me to my core. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating (both of them were sexually active before marriage and in the early years of their own relationship). It was so clear it was like watching a film- something I cannot really explain but the kind of revelation I sometimes receive. I awoke, threw up, and spent the rest of the night sitting on our couch, praying, hoping it was untrue, and waiting for her to wake up so I could ask her… Yes, she confessed, it was true.
Mark says the conversation is a blur. Grace cried and apologized and Mark’s response is- “Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her.”
Grace’s response to the situation was one of guilt and self-loathing. “Mark had righteous anger and felt totally betrayed. He wondered who I really was and felt trapped, confused and at a loss to know what in the world he would do now.”
For a couple that both were promiscuous before marriage this seems a very harsh, one-sided blame game. I think Grace’s response to his “righteous anger” is over-exaggerated and leads to the second disturbing point in the Driscoll’s theology of marriage – these aren’t new ideas he’s sharing. In the Driscoll world and their Mars Hill Church women are to submit to their husband. This new book is only an extension of a theology they have been teaching for quite sometime.
In a 2010 sermon series on I Peter 3: 1-6, Driscoll preaches on women’s role in marriage and cites his own marriage to Grace as an example of a Godly relationship. While there is always theological disagreement over gender roles in marriage Driscoll takes the stand that his way is the only correct Biblical interpretation of marriage. In the sermon “Marriage and Women” Driscoll calmly (and expressionlessly) says, “Christians disagree, often very vocally on this issue. You can be a Christian and disagree on this issue, but in my humble opinion, it will have negative consequences if you are unbiblical in how you organize your marriage. You could be a Christian but I don’t think you could be a fully Biblical, happily married Christian, as God intends, unless you will obey the things you set forth as principles today.”
Okay, anyone who reads this blog knows I take a strong Wesleyan stance and support Biblical equality. While I want people to agree with me, I would NEVER tell them their marriages will fail because they disagree. I guess according to Driscoll my six- year marriage based on Biblically equality is destined for divorce, and I’m probably going to hell for being a Christian feminist.
Driscoll defines three different views of marriage.
Model #1: Non-Christian Feminism
Model #2: Christian Egalitarianism
Anyone notice that God is nowhere in this chart? If a marriage is founded on the Bible and a belief in God he should still be at the center of the relationship and leading both spouses in their decision making.
Model #3: Christian Complementarianism
Notice this is the only graph that Driscoll puts God into. First is God, next comes man and then women. According to Driscoll both are equal in God’s eyes but the husband is ordained by God to have final say in decisions. A contradictory view- how can both be equal in God’s eyes but in the eyes of the husband his wife is not equal in decision-making. Dare I say that if God, who is sinless, sees both genders of equal worth, than maybe this is decision of sinful human nature to suppress the wife?
Driscoll’s view is typical for advocates of Christian Complementarianism, but he goes farther and defines the actual life-choices the husband should have final say on. This is also covered in Real Marriage.
There are, however, moments in the marriage where the husband and the wife won’t agree. We’re not talking hear about a lesser secondary issue. It’s date night and he wants steak and she wants fish and they can’t agree on where to go. Those are easy. Just give her what she wants. Those are easy- just love her, serve her, do what she wants. What we’re talking about here are the big issue. When do we start having kids, when do we buy a house, what house do we buy, how many kids do we have, where do we attend church. Some big, monumental cataclysmic life decisions.
Driscoll goes on in the sermon and says, “What if you don’t agree?” Well according to him, the husband has three options. First, wait and pray until your wife sees things your way. Second, bring in a mediator (a pastor, counselor or older couple both respect) and let the mediator make the call. Third, he makes the decision if pressed for time. The wife will then submit to his leadership and authority.
Driscoll’s list of “husband decisions” is disturbing to say the least. The husband can chose when to have kids? He can decided how many children and pick where they live and go to church? Where is the wife’s choice in this? I don’t hide the fact that I’m a Christian feminist, but any decision to have kids should be jointly made and since my husband isn’t the one going through labor I think the wife get equal say in this matter. Essentially, the wife has no will apart from her husband.
Driscoll leads an evangelical mega-church of thousands; yet his theology fits in perfectly with the Christian patriarchy movement. It’s not a stretch to jump from saying the husband has final say in family planning to saying that “Well, honey, we’ll let God control our family size.” It’s one step away from the Quiverfull movement.
This brings the conversation back to masculine Christianity. Do we really understand what this term means or are we buying into because it seems to fit the macho male personality type? Why has the Driscoll’s book been a New York Times bestseller? When we give money to far-out marriage advice and theology such as the Driscoll’s we are just throwing money into the Christian patriarchy trust fund. A bit of consumer awareness would be useful before jumping on board with the latest Christian pop-culture advice book.
**Note to Mark Driscoll: If you’re going to talk about Biblical Egalitarianism, at least get your model right. The model below is what true Biblical egalitarianism looks like. Not your model where God is left out of the equation.**