“Differentiation permits a person to function individually and yet be emotionally involved with others, and to both simultaneously at profound depth.”
Whenever a white male evangelical pastor writes a book for pastors that explicitly steps into the therapeutic culture, I’m eager to see if the pastor has a theology of embodied relationships that encourages evangelical pastors to extricate themselves from patriarchal psychology. When I learned that Stone would be helping pastors to understand differentiation of self, my anticipation grew exponentially.
How could it not? Differentiation of self is thoroughly embedded in the therapeutic culture. With all its baggage, paradoxes, contradictions, and life-transforming experiences, it’s undeniable the culture is powerfully shaping us in the modern world. One of my mini-passions the last ten years has been researching what the theory of differentiation of self means for male-female dyads in intimate relationships. As you may well know, some of my biggest critics when the book came out were claiming intimate cross-gender friendships were inappropriate, unhealthy, unwise, naïve, or had no boundaries.
Differentiation of self—applied in therapeutic male-female dyad within the closed doors of the therapeutic practice—was one of those psychodynamic theories that grabbed my attention and focus early on. So when a white evangelical male pastor chose to focus a whole book on people-pleasing pastors with differentiation of self as the healthy path as the alternative, I was eager to see what he had to say about differentiation of self, embodied relationships, sexuality, marriage, and intimacy.
In my own experience, God’s gift of differentiation of self was a huge factor in helping me to see that I could know God’s immediate presence in close friendships with women; and not only could I know God’s impalpable presence in cross-gender friendship, but that I also could know deepening maturing intimacy in cross-gender friendship. I could know God and women through a different lens other than patriarchal entitlement, anxiety, and alienation.
It was differentiation of self that helped me to see that Jesus was calling men and women to a spiritual intimacy that was male-female centered, instead of a male centered-female submerged spiritual maturity that has dominated the evangelical landscape in churches and seminaries. The world is starving for male pastors to step up and paint a vision for spiritual intimacy between men and women with God’s heart for shalom and abundant life. In so many evangelical institutions however, “A male-centered world tells women who they are or who they should be, especially in intimate relationships.”
I was thrilled to see Stone clearly articulate a vision for pastors and spiritual intimacy by suggesting pastors understand the richness and relational depth of self-differentiation. He writes, ‘healthy differentiation of self means that you can closely connect to others (that is, your staff, board, church members), yet remain an individual with your own views and identity that is not glommed into the group’s thinking.”
Holy moly, I thought, this dude is on his way to fleshing out for evangelical pastors how a full-blooded, Christ-centered spiritual intimacy between men and women in evangelical institutions brings redemptive freshness, redemptive healing, redemptive progress in the place of patriarchal psychology.
I was hoping Stone would take us where Timothy Keller, John Piper, Scot McKnight, David Fitch, Ed Stetzer, Mark Driscoll, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Bill Hybels have never gone: how God is doing something unprecedented in and through the male-female dyad in the therapeutic culture.
That’s right. I’m looking for evangelical male pastors/theologians to step into that huge void. A void that is there because evangelical male pastors are resistant to embrace a mutual togetherness that distinguishes between a healthy, robust, life-giving spiritual intimacy between men and women and unhealthy stuck-togetherness in community.
Differentiation of self (it’s not the only one) is one of those big-picture psychodynamic theories that goes a long, long way into understanding how male-female dyads can flourish in the therapeutic culture and fill in the void evangelical pastors/theologians have anxiously distanced themselves from.
But alas, Stone, like so many other white male evangelical pastors/theologians who have written recent books about leadership within the church, never takes his intended audience (evangelical pastors) into the heart of embodied, healthy, robust differentiated closeness between men and women. I was so disappointed when I came to the end of his book.
And why is it that even with this spate of new books by evangelical male pastors emphasizing “neighborhood” they bypass or ignore flourishing male-female dyads meeting behind closed doors in thousands upon thousands of therapeutic offices in cities across America? They don’t include this unprecedented intimacy in their books.
Just think about this. In the evangelical world, according to Ed Stetzer, there were 400 pastors who resigned over the Ashley Madison fallout. Ruth Tucker’s book, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife about her experience in an abusive marriage came out this year. It gave a painful picture about abusive marital closeness behind the scenes. Elaine Storkey’s book, Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women detailed all the various forms of violence women suffer across the world. Then, there was the blatant sexism of Wheaton College toward Larycia Hawkins at the beginning of this year. On top of that, there is Tullian Tchividjian’s adultery, exploitation, and abusive manipulation of women.
I tell you, I’m scratching my head over how Charles Stone could write a book on people-pleasing pastors to an evangelical audience and delve into differentiation of self while totally sidestepping the desperate need to apply differentiation of self to sexuality, male-female closeness, leadership, mutuality, and spiritual intimacy. The world is starving for evangelical male leadership to show up in the twenty-first century. Where are the books on leadership and spiritual intimacy from evangelical male leaders that respond to how God is birthing something new?
Keep in mind what I am intending when I talk about the therapeutic culture. I am referring to three basic criteria. 1) all the psychological theories that are being used by men and women in psychotherapy (one of which is differentiation of self), 2) the ongoing practice of psychotherapy behind closed doors, and 3) the missional impact of both 1 and 2 that has created a therapeutic culture in relationships beyond what happens within those closed doors.
Where is the spiritual intimacy between men and women that is no longer loaded with patriarchal givens and anxieties? Where are the male pastors and theologians who are going to step into this void? When are they going to? I’m thrilled that women are beginning to step up. My friend Deb Hirsch’s book, Redeeming Sex and Amy Davis Abdallah’s The Book of Womanhood are examples. But what about the void left by male pastors and theologians? Especially those who support women in ministry?
Apparently on the surface, it appears to these male leaders that the non-romantic male-female dyad is so small in meaning, significance, and value in comparison to marital dyads and whole communities supporting women in ministry.
But this is precisely where there are two decisively different big-picture visions between the therapeutic culture and male leaders writing books about church and leadership like Charles Stone. Where scores and scores of women have left the evangelical church over patriarchal psychology, thousands upon thousands of women have turned to the therapeutic male-female dyad for healing, liberation, well-being, and mature happiness.
In thousands of therapeutic offices there are women who are seeing male therapists because of abuses, wounds, and depression they have experienced in male-centered, male-led evangelical churches. For sure, many women seek out female therapists too, but there is no question women also turn to male therapists.
Furthermore, there are an endless number of testimonies from women who have become therapists who meet with male clients in their practice. There are numerous feminist therapists who meet with male clients in their practice in cities across America.
For thousands upon thousands of women and men meeting in these male-female therapeutic dyads, their mutually chosen embodied intimate relationship bears witness to the significance, import, and life-giving power of male-female dyads in our modern world. In many of these dyads, the healing trajectory for many female clients and for male clients is to extricate themselves from patriarchal abuse, power, and anxiety.
In fact, where you have abusive pastors like Mark Driscoll and Tullian Tchividjian, and so on, some of the safest and healthiest places for women are in a therapeutic dyad whether the dyad be same-sex or cross-sex. Let’s bring this fact out in the open. One of the safest and healthiest places for a woman could be behind closed doors with a male therapist. Now don’t misunderstand me, it also could be with a female therapist but I am emphasizing the male-female dyad in this post.
The non-romantic therapeutic male-female dyad could be one of the healthiest and safest relationships to process and heal from sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, pastoral manipulation, pastoral coercion, pastoral enmeshment. Male pastors and theologians (whether they be complementarians or egalitarians) can no longer support the myth that safety, well-being, healing, and transformation are to be discovered in numbers (or churches).
But Stone, like so many other male pastors and theologians writing books, has no robust theology of embodied relationships that recognizes redemptive power and trajectory in male-female-dyads beyond marriage. Like others before him, he never explores the spiritual power of non-romantic male-female dyads.