Pastor’s detailed book on sex divides reviewers, sparks controversy
January 6th, 2012
07:10 AM ET

Pastor’s detailed book on sex divides reviewers, sparks controversy

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Mark Driscoll, the pastor of a megachurch in the Seattle area, understands the uniqueness of a man in his profession coauthoring a book about sex with his wife. From the chapter on biblical approval of detailed types of sex to the chapter titled “Selfish Lovers and Servant Lovers,” the book is far from a timid look at a usually private subject.

And that has struck a nerve with a large swath of believers whose reactions have propelled the book to a trending topic on Twitter and has elicited responses that range from praise to disgust.

“Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life Together” released on Tuesday.  The book was written by Driscoll and his wife, Grace, to, in Mark’s words, “compel married couples to have important conversations about important things.”

In the first half of the book, the Driscolls discuss their own sexual issues using the lessons they learned to discuss how to reignite a marriage whose flame may have gone out. The book’s second half, which is getting most of the negative attention, discusses sex in detail.

In response, religious scholars and writers have blasted the Driscolls’ work on a number of grounds ranging from the logistical to the biblical.

“In the first place, there is a kind of sloppiness and inconsistency to the book…” writes pastor and religion blogger Tim Challies. “Real Marriage reads more like a series of seminars than a cohesive introduction-to-conclusion look at a subject.”

But more than just punctuation and flow, the backlash against the book stems largely from the revealing chapter titled “Can we ___?” The Driscolls fill in that blank throughout the chapter by using different forms of sex and then answering whether the act is biblically lawful. This chapter even comes with a disclaimer, warning conservative readers or readers who “live far away from a major city” that they may want to sit down while reading.

Denny Burk, a Biblical studies professor at Boyce college and popular blogger, writes the chapter is inherently flawed because Driscoll’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:12, his main argument in allowing many of the sex acts, is incorrect. Even more, writes Burk, this chapter could be dangerous.

I think chapter 10 has the potential to wreak havoc in such marriages where one spouse will feel a whole range of taboos to be “permissible” if he can convince his spouse to participate. This to me seems like a recipe for marital disaster, and I do not think the Driscolls’ requirement of “helpfulness” mitigates the difficulty.

And even that that was timid compared to what author and blogger Rachel Held Evans writes about not only the book, but Driscoll in particular. "True maturity,” she writes, “is marked not by how much a person knows but by the wisdom he or she shows in discerning when to speak with authority and when to hold back. And when it comes to maturity, I’m afraid that Pastor Mark still has a long way to go.”

When asked to respond to his critics, Driscoll said he hadn’t read any of the reviews but that “sometimes reviewers will reveal more of their own struggles than actual problems with the book.”

“I am not backing down from it. I am going to stick to my guns on it,” Mark Driscoll said. “This is not just stuff that I have pulled out of my mind. These are issues I have dealt with for 15 years and it is battle tested.”

Seattle pastor returns to Haiti

Mark and Grace Driscoll founded Mars Hill Church in 1996. Though it started out as a single location church, as the congregation grew, Mars Hill became a multi-campus church and now has locations around the Puget Sound region and in California.

Though the scathing reactions have been loud, not all reactions were harsh – a fact that Driscoll notes on his website.

“I am so thankful that Mark and Grace Driscoll wrote this book,” writes Perry Noble, senior pastor of NewSpring Church. “Their approach to marriage, its benefits and challenges, are transparent and challenging.”

This division among pastors and scholars shows the polarization of opinion that boundary pushing pastors like Driscoll have come to embody. As noted by Aaron Armstrong on Blogging Theologically, “Whenever Mark Driscoll talks about sex and marriage, ears perk up. Some listen for ammo (and can usually find it). Others listen for something Tweetable. Still others search for something helpful.”

And in a way, that is how Mark Driscoll likes it. In response to the criticism, Driscoll jokingly said, “you try and write a book on sex with your wife.”

He went on to say that the negative attention is just part of writing a book like "Real Marriage." Looking at himself in that light, Driscoll said the controversy is worth it if marriages are helped by the book.

“I will endure as much criticism as necessary to help as many people as I can,” concluded Driscoll.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Books • Sex • Sexuality

soundoff (727 Responses)
  1. Joe Gets

    The dude's out to make money by writing a book like that. He knows it will generate a lot of controversy. And to top it all of..'God' told him to write it. "God" seems to speak to Americans so much.

    January 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Monica Martinez

      Have you ever listened to his sermons?

      January 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  2. El Flaco

    God does not care how humans stimulate themselves to orgasm.

    January 9, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  3. Fladabosco

    If you check out the Mars Hill website you'll see huge type hyping the new book along with huge type asking for donations. That's what guys like Driscoll are all about, money and power. Have you checked out his mohawk?

    January 9, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • someone

      actually... if you would listen to the latest video/podcasts there is a reason why they are asking for donations. It has only arisen very recently because the church is growing massively and they're expanding to new sites

      January 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  4. YounanMarketingAndManagementAssociatesInc, Int'l Intst'r

    You should book a big spaceship to Mars Itself for that en – devour.
    I notice you are a clearing house camp for abducted trafficked children from my area and many others. which Hill do you really connect to as a major bump up man.

    January 9, 2012 at 6:54 am |
  5. AduntoredaZ

    haha LAZARUS LONG – you could be right.

    January 9, 2012 at 5:25 am |
  6. odetojoy

    How fortunate that we have the clergy leading the way by example, as to how to be conformed to the ways of this world. Why should they be concerned with the state of our souls when it is much more comforting to just not bring that subject up at all? After all isn't comfort what this life is all about? To make God conform to our wishes.
    We are born into this world to rise above our egoistic nature and conform our hearts to the ways of God. And above all to love our neighbors as ourselves. Spiritual matters are much deeper than any momentary pleasure received from an egoistic(selfish) act. When we learn to live in balance with the one that gave us life, the matter of which self gratifying act I can perform, will not be an issue.

    January 8, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  7. polycarp pio

    This is not a personal attack on the seattle pastor who wrote this book, this warning is for SEATTLE, you are nigh to great distruction, an earthquake of high magnitude is ready to be unleashed, the only force holding it back right now are the prayers and intersession of a small group of prayer warriors. This event cannot be long delayed. Washington state has a government that is paralyzed and unable to do anything constructive regarding its current financial situation, we have a Governor who has flip-flopped on "gay" marriage since she is not running for reelection.She has no ideas other than to take an axe to the budget and blame the financial woes of this state on WALL STREET. Her solution to all these mounting problems, to hold a press conference on 'GAY MARRIAGE', repent Seattle or face great distruction in the near future. PP

    January 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Jeff

      You spelled "destruction" wrong.

      January 8, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Kunst

      Another pipsqueak trying to speak for God. Get lost!

      January 9, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Rick

      poly: your empty proxy warnings are amusing. keep it up.

      January 9, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • Fladabosco

      Gotta love someone who knows what god wants. After all the bible was written thousands of years ago in a language that is dead now, translated and changed many time since the selected gospels were written and spread by used-car salesman types on late night TV.

      January 9, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • god


      January 9, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • Rick

      god: it is e-v-a-n-g-e-l-i-c-a-l

      January 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  8. DVDA Amy

    I like DVDA.. is that permissable?

    January 8, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  9. therecilla padla

    this is a pastor with balls.yes, dont mind what your critics say.like you said, if your book benefits many couples, then it is all worth it

    January 8, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • DVDA Amy

      Hairy balls that look like Jesus when mostly shaven.

      January 8, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  10. Devanni

    Hugh Hefner Christianity. So glad to be Buddhist!

    January 8, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  11. Reality

    Reiteration is important to education.


    To all us overse-xed h-o-mo-sapiens:

    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:


    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'"

    January 8, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • .........

      warning bull sh it alert hit report abuse on all reality posts

      January 8, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • R

      good god!

      January 8, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Reality

      See also the January, 2012 issue of Consumer Reports concerning the epidemic of HPV to include a discussion about o-ral se-x as one of the causes.

      January 9, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  12. werdc

    Lazarus Long – You come off as a complete buffoon.

    January 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  13. csw

    As always with men, it's all about the dick!!

    January 8, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • DVDA Amy

      I like multiple dick(s).

      January 8, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  14. loons

    If you set your sights on seeking truth, by way of what is selfless or selfish, then you will surely arrive at a different conclusion. Trade it for your emotional knee-jerk reaction and attempt to discard and criticize. Mars Hill does not boast in pride of itself, as the "sect" accusation person posits. It shows the practical and tangible ways that God has interacted with the group, and what the ongoing relationship to serve God has produced. Consider the possibility that there are people who believe in God who don't pollute his sovereignty to serve their selfishness. Roughly 80% of Americans believe in a "higher power, or God" but don't believe he is big enough to interact with a person. So, read the book, then comment.

    January 8, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  15. JustMeNOTyou

    Scary this means they know how to reproduce!

    January 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  16. Scott

    Its funny when supposedly grown people can't have a mature discussion about $ex. The outrage is a demonstration of the total lack of maturity and mutual respect for other human beings in the christian culture. Its showing itself to be a cult for the emotionaly immature.

    January 8, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • R


      January 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Monica Martinez

      I absolutely agree! Traditional Taboo's on this subject have hindered maturity for couples in this area for far too long. It's high time we are transparent with our spouse in this area.

      January 10, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  17. James

    He's already turned Jesus into a product, and now he's found a way to do it with his willy!

    January 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • bwana


      January 8, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • DVDA Amy

      He's turned Jesus into a product... like every other church who accepts the "offering" from their mindless zombified congregations. 10% of your paycheck to the church!

      January 8, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  18. tbone

    I have a question... do journalists know the difference between a religious sect (Mars Hill Church... really?) and real faith?

    This is from their website:

    "Mars Hill Church began in 1996. At the age of twenty-five, Mark Driscoll gathered a core group of twelve people in the living room of the Seattle rental house where he and his wife, Grace, lived. For the next seven years, Mars Hill met in various locations throughout the city until, in 2003, the church (one thousand strong) moved into a renovated hardware store north of downtown. Within three years, however, the church had outgrown its new home."

    And another:

    "Does Mars Hill Church partner with any other ministries?
    In addition to the aforementioned Acts 29 Network and Vision Nationals, which operates an orphanage, children’s school, seminary, and church-planting network in India and other countries, Pastor Mark Driscoll serves as a member of the Gospel Coalition, and our churches partner with various local agencies, ministries, and other organizations."

    January 8, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • tbone

      In other words, please make note of the difference, because normal Christian Catholics catch cr*p for things some sect publishes.

      January 8, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  19. Grim Reaper

    Hillbilly messenger sent from God. Why are all of these megachurch pastors nuts and who in the f**** belongs. Oh right, Oprah is a member of one.

    January 8, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • bwana

      Maybe all the members got a free car...

      January 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Lazarus Long

      And you think "mainstream Christianity" is any better? It's roots lie in the thoughts of 2000, 3000 and even 4000 yr. old Jewish "hillbillies" who decided they were "messengers from God" – ROFLMAO... that's all ANY religion is. Or, as I like to describe it, all religions start out with some nut job somewhere believing they have the "ONE GREAT TRUTH" trying to get people to listen to them by playing the "Daddy Said" game. Usually it fails, but once in a while a really good salesman comes along who's really good at the game and the story sticks. Viola! A new religion is born.

      January 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • werdc

      All? Stereotype much?

      January 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  20. Passion888

    These comment are so funny.

    January 8, 2012 at 9:39 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
About this blog

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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.