Reading Real Marriage, Chapter 3: Fake Jesus, Real Man

This post is the third in a series in which I’ll review Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book Real Marriage though a complementarian lens. I myself do not believe that complementarianism is a morally or theologically sound view; but my church does, and it recently hosted Driscoll’s Real Marriage conference. In a recent conversation with my pastor, he said that he believes that Pastor Driscoll’s theology aligns well with our church’s beliefs; so I am trying set aside my own egalitarian beliefs and read Real Marriage in light of what I know my church’s soft-complementarian teachings on gender to be, and to try to understand what Driscoll — and by extension, my church — is teaching about marriage, and whether those views are ones that I can live with in a church. Previous posts: Chapter 1, Chapter 2.

From Real Marriage chapter 3, entitled “Men and Marriage”, page 47: “The key to understanding masculinity is Jesus Christ.” 

Pastor Mark, I’ma stop you right there. The word you’re looking for in that sentence isn’t “masculinity” but “Christianity.” I’m not going to use this post to deconstruct the problems with gender essentialism as practiced in some camps of Christianity, because I’m trying to be careful to look at the other problems with the book and leave complementarian gender roles alone (although the longer this goes, the more I am questioning my sanity in taking on this project with that restriction, because if I didn’t think complementarianism was bollocks before, Real Marriage has sealed that for me). And that means that I’m not even going to touch most of this chapter.

But this thing Driscoll is doing here, where he warps Jesus into a model of his, Driscoll’s, preconceived notion of manhood? I cannot let that slide.

Mark Driscoll, by James Gordon
photo c. 2007 by James Gordon on flickr. Some rights reserved.

Driscoll starts by writing that men should imitate Jesus’s example of being both “tough” and “tender.” As an illustration of Jesus’s “toughness,” he writes, “Jesus was tough enough to go to the cross without shedding a tear” (45). I’m going to go out on a limb and say that even though the gospel writers don’t actually use the word “crying,” when they describe Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38) and “in anguish” so much that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44), it’s pretty safe to infer that there were some tears happening there, too. And guess what? Facing the prospect of betrayal by those closest to you, horrific torment, and an agonizing death followed by spiritual separation from God, and crying? Weeping, even? Does not constitute a Manliness Fail.

And when Driscoll makes statements like this, what he is doing is erecting a false Christ — an idol; an anti-Christ, even — and pushing people to worship this thing, his own creation. Worse, pushing people to try to emulate this false Christ.

That may sound like I’m being overly harsh with my characterization of what he writes in this chapter. But that’s just the tip of the false-Christ iceberg, and there’s plenty more where that came from.

Next Driscoll spends four pages writing truly asinine caricatures of straw not-real-men with names like Little-Boy Larry, Good-Time Gary, and “I’m the Boss” Bob, all so that he can pick them apart for not being manly enough; and then he writes,

None of these guys are the kind of men Jesus wants us to be. The key to understanding masculinity is Jesus Christ. [ed. note: Then why, given that Jesus is widely assumed to have never had a sexual relationship, does Driscoll spend so much time elsewhere using heterosexual sex as a yardstick for other men’s masculinity?] Jesus was tough with religious blockheads, false teachers, the proud, and bullies. Jesus was tender with women, children, and those who were suffering or humble. Additionally, Jesus took responsibility for Himself. He worked a job for the first thirty years of His life, swinging a hammer as a carpenter. He also took responsibility for us on the cross, where He substituted Himself and died in our place for our sins. My sins are my fault, not Jesus’ fault, but Jesus has made them His responsibility. This is the essence of the gospel, the “good news.” If you understand this, it will change how you view masculinity.

You [Mark addresses this chapter specifically to male readers] may not be physically big, strong, or tough. But if you are rightly tough and tender, and you take responsibility for yourself and others, then you are truly a man’s man, a godly man, and by grace you are being conformed into a man like the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ. (47-48)

Here are some things about this little section that are blastingly wrong:

“Jesus took responsibility for Himself. He worked a job for the first thirty years of His life”. Okay, yes, Christian tradition (but not scripture itself) holds that He worked as a carpenter or some kind of craftsman, although it’s unlikely that he was literally working that job for the entire first thirty years of his life. (Pedantry!) But all four gospel stories pick up adult Jesus’s story at the beginning of His public ministry, and none of the accounts talk about Jesus working any kind of day jobs to fund Himself and the disciples. In fact, Jesus’s ministry was funded by some wealthy women who are named in Luke 8:1-3 — Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, “and many others. These women were helping to support them [Jesus and the Twelve] out of their own means.” 

Driscoll is picking and choosing the details from Jesus’s life that he wants to use in order to make his case for a definition of masculinity that equates to taking responsibility for supporting oneself and one’s family (he has elsewhere twisted scripture to say that a man who is not the breadwinner for his family is “worse than an unbeliever”), and the Jesus he describes just isn’t supported by scripture.

Furthermore. Driscoll holds Jesus up as an example for men, but not for women. He’s right about some of Jesus’s traits — the stuff about being “tough” with the leaders who were using religion to oppress people and “tender” with the oppressed? Yep, that’s right on. But that isn’t to suggest that the only people who are supposed to be following Jesus’s lead on this stuff are men. All through the New Testament are instructions given to all believers, not just the male ones, to become like Christ. The fact that a couple of verses in Ephesians and 2 Corinthians compare men to Christ in their relationships with their wives doesn’t somehow nullify all those other instructions that are for everyone.

Chapter 4, entitled “The Respectful Wife,” is the counterpart to this chapter, written for women. Does it uphold Jesus as a model for Christian women as well? Spoiler alert: the only way that Real Marriage says that a woman should look to Jesus is as “the key to growing in respectful submission” (83). None of this other tough-tender stuff, just submitting. Driscoll doesn’t even use the word “submit” when he talks to men about being Christlike — for men, it’s called “taking responsibility”. Never mind that the Apostle Paul called all believers to cultivate an attitude “like that of Christ Jesus, who…made himself nothing…and humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:5-8). Never mind that Paul writes elsewhere — in the context of marriage roles — that believers are to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (Eph. 5:21).This is not a gendered instruction. What Driscoll is doing is dissecting the character of Jesus into two distinct pieces and saying that one of those pieces is definitively masculine, and the other definitively feminine — and furthermore, conflating that gender distinction with the message of the gospel itself.

Next Driscoll expounds on his point about how real men take responsibility for others:

Men are like trucks – they drive smoother and straighter with a load. Adolescence delays this load carrying indefinitely. [ed. note: Must…not…make…obvious…joke…] …So load yourself. Take responsibility for yourself, your wife and children, your church, your company, your city. Real men don’t look for other men, organizations, and governments to carry their load. Real men carry their own load. (48)

Setting aside his not-very-veiled criticism of the social safety net, I’m only going to point out that Driscoll is fundamentally misunderstanding how the Church — the family of God, the fellowship of believers, the body of Christ, however you want to call it — is supposed to work, specifically in modeling Christlikeness. Paul writes to the church in Galatians: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).

It’s as if Driscoll is deliberately neglecting the core messages of the gospel — of unity and mercy and no longer having to live up to arbitrary, externally imposed, legalistic expectations; of following a Savior Whose burden is not heavy like the millstones of the legalists and the teachers of religion, but Whose yoke is easy and Whose burden is light. Driscoll is missing all of this, in favor of adding more rules, more restrictions, more weight to the burden. And he’s relying on dishonesty about Jesus to make his point.

So when Driscoll says that understanding (his own very gendered version of) the gospel “will change how you understand masculinity”? What he’s really doing is demonstrating how his warped understanding of masculinity is shaping his understanding of the gospel into something hideous and restrictive.

———-

There is plenty more problematic content in this chapter. There is a section on “honoring your wife physically” because she is the “weaker vessel” that is full of incredibly disturbing violent language to the point that it reads like abuse erotica, written under the guise of What Not To Do. This is part of a larger section on ways husbands abuse their wives (physically, verbally, emotionally) that goes into graphic detail about hurtful language a man might use to hurt and humiliate his wife, yet never once addresses the possibility of sexual abuse and rape within a marriage — never once mentions, much less examines, the harm that is done by men who assert that their wives’ bodies “belong to them” regardless of their wives’ agency. Another section is full of scarelore about the horrible things that happen to families where the mother works outside the home. There are pages and pages of questionable statistics about how everyone is having unhappy marriages except people who hold to conservative evangelical theology, and there’s a really incredible mischaracterization of the egalitarian model for marriage on page 61.

But frankly, I think I’ve had enough of this book, and of Pastor Driscoll. I’m three chapters in, and I don’t think I can stomach any more of his rotten, sick-making theology. In the previous two chapters, he gives unwise counsel and overestimates his own expertise on marriage without ever humbly, realistically examining his own shortcomings, while exaggerating and over-emphasizing the shortcomings and incompetence of others; he blames abuse victims for being abused and equates being a victim of abuse with committing sins like selfishness, adultery, and porn addiction; he makes sweeping judgments and misrepresentations about other Christians who hold differing views from him.

And in this chapter, Driscoll is doing violence to the gospel. He is willfully reshaping Jesus into something other than who He is, just to make a contrived point about what manhood is supposed to look like. He abuses scripture, and he maligns the Christ I worship and the scriptures I love. 

And I am done with him.

I guess we’ll see what that means for my relationship with my church.

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5 thoughts on “Reading Real Marriage, Chapter 3: Fake Jesus, Real Man

  1. I have a very hard time being gracious to this kind of theology. Unfortionatly, that means that I am less than gracious toward people who spout this theology.

    It kills me though that the teaching/way of thinking so easily becomes toxic attitudes hidden under spiritual talk. It makes my heart hurt for the church.

    Even so, Come Lord Jesus.

  2. My husband loves listening to Driscoll’s podcasts and YouTube videos. He is forever checking out the Mars Hill website. He is buying Driscoll’s books. And every time he mentions his name, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I can never figure out why. There is something….not right but I can’t put my finger on it. Your post is the first time I have felt like I’m figuring out that thing.

    I saw this book in the bookstore and tried flipping to a page to see what it was about. I made it 2 sentences and had to put it down. Thank you for writing what you do. I found your blog through a link on Pinterest and have been reading many of your previous posts. I can already tell I’m going to love the rest of your writing.

  3. How did your church react?
    What did you decide to do?
    I must tell you that my church’s beliefs (it’s a PCA – complementarian), which I thought initially would be livable, made church increasingly toxic – to me and my daughters especially – despite the “good things”. I and my family no longer go there.

    1. I’m sorry you had that experience with your church, River. I hope you and your family have found someplace better.

      I’ve since stepped back from my church (I wrote about it here), due to this and a few other issues that became incompatible with what I needed from a church. I’ve since found an Episcopal church that I love, and am in process of transitioning my kids to the new place.

      Good luck to you on your journey out of a toxic church.

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