Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Seattle, Wash., has hit back at critics who claim his new book penned with his wife, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, goes too far, or doesn't go far enough, in its discussion of marriage and sex.
"You try to write a book on marriage and sex with your wife and next thing you know there are a lot of ants crashing your picnic," he wrote Tuesday in a post for CNN's Belief blog.
In Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together Driscoll and his wife, Grace, describe their marriage in a "brutally honest" way, exposing their relationship struggles and sharing "the lessons we learned along the way." They also talk frankly about sex.
The book addresses issues that both Christians in general and pastors specifically are often hesitant to openly discuss. The Driscolls talk honestly about sexuality – covering topics such as pornography, sexual abuse, and what kind of sexual activity they believe is permissible for married couples. "It's a practical book rooted in the Bible," Pastor Driscoll argues in the CNN post. It deals with marriage in the context of friendship, men's and women's roles and responsibilities and ways of dealing with sin "so that marriage gets better rather than bitter."
The main point is ministerial guidance, Driscoll suggests, revealing that Christians often come to him needing marriage advise, which is what inspired the book.
"With nowhere else to turn, these couples find wrong and damaging answers in magazines, television, movies, porn and more," he insists.
"If the book accomplishes that, we'll take the criticism in exchange for helping people. We don't think our book is perfect and we tell folks upfront (literally in the preface) to take what is helpful and leave the rest."
But not everyone appreciates the minister's openness. Some readers seem to think that what is acceptable for a one-on-one discussion with the pastor or in the church, is not necessarily proper for print when it can be read by thousands of people.
Some critics, such as Rachel Held Evans, a blogger and author, wonder if church leaders should stick to teaching about the Bible and steer clear of sex. Others even suggested that Driscoll is belittling women by talking about sex in too much detail – both in the book and at the pulpit, as expressed in this entry by Christian Research Network.
Pastor and religion blogger Tim Challies pointed out in his review of Real Marriage that certain acts discussed in Chapter 10 ("Can We ____?") were so "invasive" that as a husband he would not want his wife reading some of the content.
"We knew before we wrote the book that we'd catch a lot of flak, especially on the chapters dealing with sex. We also knew the criticism would come from every direction, as some people would think we went too far and others would think we didn't go far enough," Driscoll says in his CNN post. "But we wrote it anyway. Why? Simply put, we want to help marriages – and single people aspiring to marry – and we wanted to do so in a way that is practical, biblical and applicable to the reality of today's culture."
The Christian community is divided among those who find sex to be something shameful and "gross," and those who nearly worship it, so accommodating everyone would be impossible, the minister suggested.
"People in our churches are dealing with the issues discussed in 'Real Marriage,' and to pretend these aren't real issues and to avoid talking about them is akin to closing your eyes and declaring that you don't see the need we are serving. If ministry leaders don't address these issues in some way, we're religious cowards who do a disservice to our church," Driscoll wrote.
Real Marriage, which also exposes some of the Driscolls' own sins, is divided into three sections: "Marriage," "Sex," and "The Last Day." It concludes with a "big homework assignment," which Driscoll says challenges readers to turn "the principles of the book into plans for your life and marriage."
The Bible teaches that "sex is a powerful and exhilarating gift that God gives to married couples," Driscoll claims.
Tied to Real Marriage's release, Driscoll hosted an event on Jan. 23 in which he interviewed a former porn star, showing once again that sex and even pornography can be talked about in the context of the church, as elements of human nature. Some 430 college students reportedly showed up for the event held at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle's University District.
Despite the criticism, the Driscolls are not the only church leaders openly discussing bedroom issues with their congregation and in a somewhat daring way.
Recently, pastors Ed Young of Fellowship Church in Texas and his wife, Lisa, decided to spend 24 hours in a bed on the church roof to discuss their new book, Sexperiment, and encourage married couples to understand the power of a healthy sex life.
In general congregations seem to welcome discussions on sex, judging on the count in the audiences during similar events.