January 24th, 2012
12:01 AM ET
By Mark Driscoll, Special to CNN
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.
My wife, Grace, and I recently published "Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, & Life Together," which quickly became a No. 1 New York Times best-seller.
In it, we’re brutally honest about our past struggles, share the lessons we learned along the way and talk frankly about sex. Criticism has ensued.
If you wish to find that criticism, just do a Google search. You’ll find plenty. My intent here is not to name names and pick a fight with my critics, but to provide context on why there is criticism.
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.
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.
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.
The book identifies three ways people tend to view sex: as gross, as a god and as a gift.
Sex as gross
Some people are very uncomfortable talking about sex, even with their spouses.
Many Christians, because of upbringing and past church experiences, view sex as gross and something that should not be talked about in public.
Unfortunately, this view is pervasive in the church. Many couples have honest questions about sex and various sexual acts but struggle to find a pastor willing to teach on these topics.
With nowhere else to turn, these couples find wrong and damaging answers in magazines, television, movies, porn and more.
The practical result is that couples divorce their sex from their spirituality, talking to their pastors about “spiritual” issues and ordering their love life around advice from “secular” sources.
Next time you’re in line at the grocery store, read the headlines on the women’s magazines that are shouting at little kids standing in line with their parents. Our culture has made the wrong answers about sex far easier to find than the church has made the right answers to find.
Those who view sex as gross criticize our book because we speak too openly and frankly about sex for their taste. The accusation is that the private counsel that pastors give to people in the church isn’t suitable to give in a public context.
But many critics tend to want to debate nuances of theology rather than engage head-on the practical realities that many people are facing.
I’ve written systematic theology books with hundreds of footnotes. "Real Marriage" is not that kind of book. It’s a practical book rooted in the Bible.
We call everything a sin that the Bible does and we give directives for married couples to use wisdom and conscience in discussing what they do and do not want to do sexually on matters to which the Bible doesn’t speak.
Because we believe the Bible is God’s perfect and sufficient word, we don’t want to add to it what we want or the archconservative Christian culture wants.
Conversely, we don’t want to remove anything from it just because some people find it uncomfortable.
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.
Before we get to the trickiest sexual questions, based upon what many people are already doing, our book deals with marriage in the context of friendship, men’s and women’s roles and responsibilities and how to deal with sin so that marriage gets better rather than bitter.
When we do get around to evaluating sex acts, we ask three simple questions, based upon 1 Corinthians 6:12 in the Bible: 1. Is it lawful? 2. Is it helpful? 3. Is it enslaving?
Each of these questions leaves room for couples to be grownups and to determine what works for them sexually by allowing them to examine their hearts and the scriptures – and to act according to their consciences on whether they wish to participate in sexual activities that the Bible neither forbids nor condones.
While it may be fun for bloggers and critics to discuss these things, our hope was that couples would instead be the ones having these conversations to build their marriages in ways that don’t pressure, abuse or use one another.
Sex as a god
There are some who think about almost nothing else but sex, treating it as a kind of god. This can happen in the form of addiction to sex or porn, severe promiscuity, adultery or participating in various sexual acts that the Bible speaks against, making personal preference and desire more important than what God says about sex.
This view of sex is pervasive, as many go to extraordinary lengths to fulfill their sexual desires, even when it’s not good for them physically, spiritually, mentally or emotionally.
Even worse, this view causes some to do unspeakable acts against others in the form of rape, assault, marital sexual assault, pedophilia, sex trafficking and more – making literal human sacrifices to their god of sex.
Those who view sex as a god criticize our book because it doesn’t go far enough for them. Because we teach that the Bible does call some sex acts sin, such as pornography, premarital sex, homosexuality, adultery and more, we are criticized for being judgmental, prudish, antiquated and fundamentalist.
We understand that not everyone will believe what we believe, but as Christians who view the Bible as our highest authority in life, we don’t write the mail, we simply deliver it.
In the end, for conservatives we’re too liberal, and for liberals we’re too conservative. We can’t win.
Thankfully, we’re not concerned with winning. We’re concerned with helping others build healthy, happy and holy, God-glorifying marriages.
Sex as a gift
What Grace and I have found in nearly 20 years of marriage and more than 15 years of ministry is that both the church and culture often get sex wrong.
So we went back to the scriptures to see what they have to say.
The Bible gives us a different way to think of sex. Instead of seeing it as gross or slavishly worshiping it as a god, the Bible teaches that sex is a powerful and exhilarating gift that God gives to married couples.
It is also a deeply spiritual act, bringing together a husband and a wife to be one flesh (Genesis 2:24), binding them together on a spiritual, mental, emotional, physical and neurological level.
As a deeply spiritual act, it’s important for people to understand what the Bible teaches (and doesn’t teach) about sex, to be able to speak openly and honestly with their ministry leaders regarding sex, and to find solid, biblical teaching on sex.
God has a plan for sex: that it is to be enjoyed between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. This means that there are certain types of sex acts that abuse and misuse the good gift of sex that God gave, and that we are to honor God with our bodies by living our sexual lives in a way that glorifies him and honors the scriptures.
In our book, we blow up some common misconceptions about sex (like that the Bible prohibits stripteases or oral sex). We help people understand that it’s God’s intent that we steward and enjoy the gift of sex, like every gift he gives, in such a way that is glorious to him, good for our marriages and a lot of fun.
It is our prayer that you and your spouse would move past any misconceptions of how you’ve seen sex and understand it to be a gift from God. A gift to be stewarded. A gift to be guarded. A gift to be enjoyed. And a gift to be shared together for God’s glory and your good as friends.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Driscoll.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.