“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.”