(The Tennessean) - Megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll's candid new book on sex and marriage combines experiences with his wife, quotes from the euphemism-filled Song of Solomon and Driscoll's take on divine directives.
Real Marriage, published by Nashville-based Christian literature giant Thomas Nelson, was released Jan. 3 and stood at No. 32 on Amazon.com by Jan. 16. Now the No. 1 hardcover advice book on theNew York Times Best Sellers list, Real Marriage had a 70,000 first-print run, and a second is already under way.
Driscoll, whose nondenominational Mars Hill Church in Seattle draws 13,000 people on weekends, said he and his wife cowrote the book because pastors are supposed to help church members with all areas of life. But his critics wonder if church leaders should stick to teaching about the Bible and steer clear of sex. They also question if Driscoll - who's made controversial comments about homosexuality and women in the past - should be giving advice on sex.
Most agree Christians should talk about sex, but Rachel Held Evans, a writer and blogger from Dayton, Tenn., would rather they seek advice from a qualified counselor than Driscoll or any other pastor. Evans, who is writing a book about a year she spent living under the Bible's rules for women, said Driscoll gives too many intimate and specific details about sex.
"I think we've put too much pressure on pastors to be experts about everything - money, marriage, and all kinds of things," Evans said. "I don't need my pastor to tell me whether or not I should use sex toys. I don't really feel like I needed all of those details."
In short, the Driscolls say sex is only for married couples, and that those couples should be best friends, have lots of sex and skip the birth control pill, using alternate sex acts that don't cause pregnancy when necessary.
Driscoll said American culture is filled with bad advice about sex from television talk shows and checkout-line magazines, and it's up to churches to give correct answers.
"If they don't get answers from the church, they will get answers elsewhere, from the men's magazines, the women's magazines or pornography," he said. "But I don't think any of those answers lead to a 50-year, happily married life, with no adultery."
Sex and the pulpit
The Rev. David Clayton of Ethos Church in Nashville said he's looking forward to reading Real Marriage. Driscoll - whose church started with a handful of people when he was in his 20s - is a hero to pastors of start-up churches like Ethos, which was founded three year ago.
Clayton has preached before on the Song of Solomon, the part of the Bible that talks most openly about sex. It's an area of life churches can't ignore, he said. He teaches his congregation that sex is a gift from God, but it's not the most important thing in life.
"Sex makes a very poor god," he said. "It will always let you down."
Rev. Mike Glenn, pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church, a Williamson County megachurch, said he doesn't mention body parts when talking about sex to his congregation, but he does talk about the emotional aspect. He's also preached about sexually transmitted diseases and adultery.
He said that God designed sex to build commitment between a married couple, evidenced by the New Testament statement that a married couple become one flesh. American culture, on the other hand, glorifies sex without commitment.
"It's a 'Love the one You're With' kind of thing, and it is terribly destructive," he said.
Christian counselor Kevin Leman, bestselling author of Sex Begins in the Kitchen and Sheet Music, guides to sexual intimacy in marriage, agrees American culture has made a mess of sex. By contrast, Christians see sex as a gift from God but rarely talk about it, and Leman wants that to change.
"There is no better place to talk about sex than the confines of a church," he said.
But the Rev. Brian Hooper, a licensed pastoral counselor from Nashville, isn't so sure. Sometimes medical conditions can cause sexual problems in marriage, something pastors may not be aware of. And conservative pastors like Driscoll can be skeptics about modern psychology and may not refer couples to professional counselors.
If a couple is having problems in the bedroom, that could be a sign that their relationship has serious issues, said Hooper. In that case, the Driscolls' advice won't work.
"Just having more bad sex is not going to make the relationship good," said Hooper.
Theology professor Denny Burk of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the Bible talks about sex, and so pastors must address the topic. But Burk would like more decorum and a fewer details.
"I don't think we should look to the Song of Solomon as a permission slip to talk salaciously about sex," he said.
Burk said he likes parts of Driscoll's new book, especially its emphasis on honest communication and on spouses becoming friends. But in his view, the chapter titled "Can We ___?" that discusses sex practices goes too far. He said pastors have to stay away from both talking too frankly about sex or from controversial stunts.
"You are not drawing attention to the Bible or Christ," he said. "You are drawing attention to yourself."
Driscoll said his book isn't for everyone. If people are uncomfortable with the section on sex, that's okay with him. But there are lessons in the book for every marriage, he said.
He said he and his wife wanted people to know that marriage is hard, but it can be great if couples are willing to communicate honestly and work hard.
"What we don't want to be is a couple that says, 'We figured it out, our life is awesome - and now you should do what we do," he said. "We like to give them hope and say, 'You can work through this if you want to.'"
But he said that in a society when people can't agree on whether or not oral sex is really sex, it makes sense to talk directly about sexual practices and not use code.
"Let's just say it clearly so everyone knows what you are talking about," he said. "If you use all those euphemisms - half of the people don't know what you are talking about."