Many of you will be familiar with the hard complementarian and mega-church book of Pastor Mark and Mrs Grace Driscoll: Pastor Mark and Mrs Driscoll, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship & Life Together (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012).
Many of my flock ask me about whether eros-love is acceptable in a soft-firm complementarian church.
And it’s a good question.
Read Canticle of Canticles, I sometimes tell them.
Yet sometimes even Solomon can be too symbolic.
Imagine my relief, and the relief of my wife, when we saw the thoughtful and gracious review of Pastor and Mrs Driscoll’s book by Denny Burk. Prof. Denny is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College which is the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is a foremost Bible scholar, author of articles and books, and, most importantly, editor of the Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (JBMW), a biannual publication of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. So if anyone can elucidate the plain meaning of scripture on manhood and womanhood, Prof. Denny can!
Prof. Denny begins by outlining “significant common ground” and I would like to announce that we can safely place my wife and I in this common ground:
First, the book is unashamedly complementarian. Mark’s challenge to men in chapter 3 is one of the strongest exhortations to biblical manhood that I have ever read…Mark challenges men to grow up, to take responsibility, and to lead their families. He encourages them to be producers not consumers, to be students of scripture, and to be faithful churchmen. Above all, he encourages husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. This part of the book is countercultural in the best kind of way.
Grace’s chapter on “The Respectful Wife” is likewise helpful. She encourages women to respect their husbands with their head, heart, and hands. She also gives practical advice to women about how they can disagree, counsel, encourage, and submit in a respectful way with their husbands. The Driscolls argue that the only way to experience marriage to its fullest is to embrace manhood and womanhood as the Bible defines it and to live out the roles that are prescribed in scripture. This is all to be commended… I agree with the Driscolls that the Song of Solomon is mainly about marital (sic) love.
I know of no complementarian, hard or soft, who would disagree with such a tender assessment. However, Pastor and Mrs Driscoll were somewhat explicit about their habits in the martial bed for a couple as sexually vanilla as Dr Dirk and his wife! Fortunately, Prof. Denny “tried to summarize and critique as discreetly as possible” and, as I don’t know of some of the practices mentioned, I will have to defer to those more knowledgeable than I:
Chapter 10…has the simple title “Can We _____?,” and the Driscolls fill-in the blank of the chapter title with a variety of sexual activities that are sometimes considered taboo…If one judges a given behavior to be biblically lawful, relationally helpful, and non-addictive, then it is permissible for Christians to participate in that activity. Among the activities that the authors deem permissible within this taxonomy are masturbation, felatio/cunnilingus, sodomy (on both spouses), menstrual sex, role-playing, sex toys, birth control, cosmetic surgery, cybersex, and sexual medication.
At first I was worried I would have to partake in some or all of these and even look some of these practices up in a dictionary or on the internet. But mercifully Prof. Denny continued:
The Driscolls are careful to stipulate that these are activities spouses may participate in by mutual agreement, but not that they must participate in (p. 180). No spouse should be manipulated into doing anything that violates his or her conscience (p. 178).
Most importantly, Prof. Denny continues with Bible and pastoral critique:
The problems with the Driscolls’ advice, however, are not merely exegetical. They are also pastoral. Although some Christian authors comment on the ethics of a husband sodomizing his wife, I have yet to find any who contemplate the reverse. Yet the Driscolls give explicit instructions to wives about how they might sodomize their husbands in a pleasurable way (p. 188).
I’ve not read such Christian authors but I am thankful that Mrs Byrd will probably not be sodomizing me…and I still don’t know how that’s biologically possible! Helpfully, however, Prof. Denny shows that such strange activity is gay:
Yet where in the Bible is such an activity ever commended? The Bible only contemplates such activities in the context of homosexual relationships. Why would Christian couples emulate that unnatural use in the marital (sic) bed? What about a husband for whom such an activity might stir up homosexual desires that he has never experienced before engaging in this activity with his wife? I do not think that the Driscolls have reckoned with the view that says “immorality” (porneia) is possible within the marital (sic) bed. The Driscolls may disagree with this point of view, but they should at least engage biblical commentators who understand sodomy as a defilement of marriage.
Prof. Denny also raises some pertinent questions:
Is sexual holiness really upheld while engaging in cybersex with one’s spouse over the internet (p. 184)? Does anyone really think it wise for Christians to upload digital, sexual images of themselves to the internet even if it is only intended for a spouse? What if a third party were to intercept such an image and make it available to everyone with an internet connection? How the cause of Christ would be shamed by such a result! … Or what about the endorsement of “Sex Toys”? The Driscolls recommend purchasing them “from one of the more discreet Web sites” (p. 193), but this seems to me a precarious proposition. How does a Christian go about finding a “discreet” seller of sex toys? The authors give no specific vendor for such objects. Specific rather than vague guidance might be better here, since a search for “sex toys” is just as likely to connect Christians to pornography as it is to “discreet Web sites.”
Good gravy, I don’t even know what a sex toy would look like! I HOPE nothing like the Transformers I had as child!
But Pastor and Mrs Driscoll are, ultimately, good complementarians who have been guided by the cautious exegesis of Prof. Denny. It remains only to leave you with the wise words of peace, agape (but not eros!), and communion given by Prof. Denny:
I love and appreciate the Driscolls, and I am really grateful for the testimony that they share about their own marriage. I was genuinely helped by many of the practical exhortations in this book. I think many marriages would be strengthened by the Driscolls’ advice on becoming a friend to your spouse. Men would benefit from hearing Mark’s powerful call for husbands to grow up, take responsibility, and lead their families. Women would be edified to hear Grace’s testimony and passionate call for wives to follow the leadership of their husbands.
Vote and Discuss!
While the Word of God should not be reduced to voting in the realm of temporality, my wife and I were curious to assess the feeling out there in the pews. Please keep your answers graceful and serious; do not upset the cause of Christ.
- If discreetly available, should a loving soft complementarian couple use sex toys in the martial bed?
- If an Intra-web is available, should a loving soft complementarian couple upload illicit digitized images of themselves?
- Is sodomizing the soft complementarian husband in a pleasurable way gay?
- Should the soft complementarian husband perform felatio/cunnilingus?
- Should the loving soft complementarian couple administer sexual medication even if they have not passed a basic First Aid course?