Here’s the good news: Mark and Grace Driscoll have written a perfectly adequate book on marriage. This is not a small accomplishment. Scores of truly dreadful books populate the self-help section of your local bookstore; Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, & Life Together is not one of them. Yes, it is marked by some of the most annoying idiosyncrasies of Christian self-help literature: theological jargon, silly personifications (“Success-and-Status Stewart” and “Good-Time Gary” are not ideal husbands), and too many exclamation points. But it offers plenty of good ideas for couples. Real Marriage suggests that spouses talk to each other about their emotions, do nice things for each other, cultivate friendship, plan date nights. It points out that sex within marriage is a good thing. It recommends forgiveness, kindness, patience. It gives pretty decent advice. It does not “send shock waves throughout the evangelical world,” as Thomas Nelson promises in the accompanying press release.

First, the book. It is unabashedly conservative and complementarian. Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill Church, falls into the “soft patriarchy” camp, a phrase that he himself uses. His definition of manliness is surprisingly Southern; in the very first chapter, he explains that he came back to the church as a young man because he finally found a congregation with a manly pastor (he had been in the military and bow-hunted) and masculine men (farmers, hunters, and one guy with 13 children). Men are to be tough in business (there will be no questioning of American economic norms in this book) and tender with women and children, who are weak. Wives are “crystal goblets,” beautiful and fragile; men are “thermoses,” strong and protective. Men are to lead, women to submit, although submission is carefully redefined as “respect” and leadership as “taking responsibility.” Men, Driscoll says, are meant to be breadwinners. Always.

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