Any move by evangelical pastors toward the therapeutic culture is a move toward embracing healthy deep friendships for men and women which is why I was encouraged to see this book delve into differentiation of self. Let me dive into how differentiation of self as this game-changer for dyadic cross-gender relationships between Christian men and women.
Differentiation of self is one of those relational theories embedded in the practice and theory of the therapeutic culture that has blazed a trail for evangelical pastors to follow. God has birthed something utterly new and unheard-of in the therapeutic culture in recent decades something evangelical pastors immersed in Christendom have resisted—including well-known evangelical Ed Stetzer who wrote the foreword to this book.
Let’s be clear about how I am using the therapeutic culture: 1) the numerous psychodynamic theories practiced among therapeutic practioners, 2) the ongoing regular dyadic or triadic practice of therapist-client happening in thousands of offices everyday, and 3) the implications and impact of the first two creating a culture beyond the closed doors of therapeutic practice.
Because of the overwhelming success of the therapeutic culture, evangelical pastors now know, beyond a shadow of doubt, their greatest resistance to healthy intimate cross-gender dyads is utterly groundless. What do I mean by “success?” All the hyper anxieties that have been passed on by theologians in male-dominated seminaries and male pastors as “sound wisdom” in discipleship about the male-female dyad have been proven to be unjustified by the therapeutic culture.
Think about it.
In our contemporary world at this hour shared humanity—with deep gratitude toward the therapeutic culture—now knows these day in, day out embodied, concrete, wise truths about the male-female dyad.
- As a dyad, men and women can meet alone behind closed doors and nurture deep trust between one another.
- Married men and married women but not to each other, can share deep solitude, secrets, and deep spiritual-emotional content over a sustained length of time which doesn’t jeopardize their marital fidelity.
- A male-female dyad can share frequent embodied closeness (meeting once or more a week) and not have sex.
- A male-female dyad can experience unspoken or spoken sexual attraction meeting behind closed doors and discover a relational maturity/depth that doesn’t need sex as a healthy outcome.
- All the previous points can be named as healthy and good in constructive therapeutic male-female dyads (it doesn’t matter which gender is therapist or client).
- A male-female dyad can be the deepest and healthiest expression of self-care.
This is the great gift from God that the therapeutic culture has bequeathed to patriarchal-oriented, or patriarchal-nervous evangelical pastors and theologians!
When I was looking for rich, safe, sound, healthy, embodied wisdom on male-female dyads, I had so little examples to turn to in the evangelical world. Think of your favorite evangelical theologians and bloggers. They were all stuck in this “togetherness” that resisted unprecedented closeness in male-female dyads beyond marriage.
Now, for those of you with immediate objections that these 6 embodied truths are embedded in clinical and professional relationships, the simple response to that is to not deny that but turn to the professionals themselves.
Most of these professionals are passionately missional in helping us know psychological theories and embodied practices (like differentiation of self) that are real, authentic, and good beyond the closed doors of these professional relationships. This is why the self-help industry has thousands upon thousands of titles from these professionals. And differentiation of self is one such theory.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Please hear. The male-female dyad is susceptible and vulnerable to various abuses and power plays and all kinds of unhealthy dynamics—dynamics that many good evangelical men and women pointed to as the reason to resist friendships between men and women.
But my point now is that the therapeutic culture has now demonstrably proven a full-blooded healthy relationship between men women is not utterly dependent upon a number more than two. Think about it.
What the therapeutic culture has demonstrated is that all the healthy dynamics evangelicals have claimed in small groups or in churches or in marriages can happen in dyadic male-female friendships. All the relational beauty that can happen in numbers beyond the male-female dyad can happen within the male-female dyad.
Second, conversely, we now know, that male-female dyads can be extraordinarily healthy, life-giving, and flourishing for a man and a woman who are encountering unhealthy dynamics and togetherness in groups larger than two—like dysfunctional churches and people-pleasing pastors. And mark this claim by the author Stone at the very beginning of the book: “People-pleasing, approval-motivated leadership pervades today’s churches, as my extensive research for People-Pleasing Pastors revealed.”
Part three to come.