Love Therapy was developed by Dr. Ralph Ankenman in the 1970’s. Dr. Ankenman was raised in a liberal church, but he actually met Jesus Christ in a Baptist group. Although he became a Baptist, he believes his background enabled him to think outside traditional fundamentalist precepts.
He became a medical missionary in Bangladesh in the 60’s, then in various inner-city missions in the United States. After 15 years he returned to his home in Cedarville, Ohio to resume his medical practice with the same missionary spirit.1 He began noticing a correlation between emotional immaturity and an array of medical problems, both emotional and physical. He developed many of the foundational concepts presented in this paper and has been using them to heal people in his practice for decades.
While attending Ohio State University (1977-79) to complete a doctorate in Psychiatry (he was already an MD), he taught Love Therapy for three years at Layman’s Challenge for Today, an early Xenos group. Ankenman was immediately drawn to the grace-based sanctification taught at our Bible studies, which was compatible with his Love Therapy approach. His teachings were employed in various Xenos ministries with great success because of this unique compatibility.
Part 2 – Underlying Assumptions in Love Therapy
Assumption #1 – Emotional Immaturity is the greatest cause for ill-health.
Love Therapy draws a line between weakness and strength, both emotional and physical, which is the distinction Immature Love and Mature Love.
Immature Love is love-taking, which is the way many people fill the deep loneliness in their hearts. Love Therapy identifies the unique Love Demands which characterize common love-taking strategies.
Mature Love is the ability to give love, which is a learned behavior in relationships. Dr. Ankenman taught what Mature Love entails and how to move the immature into this realm.
Using this distinction, Ankenman helped patients to recognize how Immature Love strategies were causing anxiety, depression and other emotional problems which often triggered physical problems.
30–50% of my patients at the Green County emergency room in Xenia were related directly to emotional problems (e.g., their chief complaint was nervousness), or secondary problems (e.g., someone had a fight with their beer-drinking buddies, had a cut on their face…)
Current research supports Dr. Ankenman’s contention,2 and Scientific American reports connections between the central nervous system and our immune system.3 Doctors have long-known the association between stable love relationships and good health, and they want families involved in the recovery process after surgery, for example.
Assumption #2: All love – and much behavior – is inherently irrational
The most irrational thing I know is that my wife loves me. I know 1000 reasons why she shouldn’t. But she loves me for irrational reasons. – R. Ankenman
Jesus’ love is irrational when He says “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek.” When “love believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things,” it enters the realm of the unreasonable, inconceivable and even irrational.
Love operates by different principles than banking. Investors who understand the principles of finance may grow wealthy, but running a marriage this way is a recipe for divorce.
This is because love is emotional (1 Peter 1:22), and emotions are irrational, unpredictable, and operate outside our cognitive or logical faculties.
This entails several implications:4
- All our reasonable rules need to be set aside if we’re to love people. We cannot love others through reason and logic. Whatever love involves, it certainly involves a personal interaction which surpasses reasonableness.
- Love means drop the justice and exchange system. Some people’s minds churn endlessly, calculating and reviewing and summing up the spreadsheets of their relationships. For a fair exchange rate, go to the bank.
- You cannot reason with emotions. Much of Dr. Ankenman’s training in Love Therapy was to teach people how to love emotionally and confront relational problems emotionally.
- Arguments are an absurd and unhelpful effort to reason with the irrational.
- Irrational does not mean lawless, however. There are still principles not tied to reason by which love operates. Lawless emotions are destructive, and must be stopped.
- People change by emotional motivation. Change involves many factors, but it ultimately necessitates providing someone a better emotional experience than what they are currently experiencing. (Quoting Ankenman: “It’s also known as ‘Physical Reasoning’ with smaller children.”)
Assuption #3: Victorious Love Output is the key to solving most emotional problems
This begins with developing a grateful heart for God and others, which is a core biblical approach to regeneration and sanctification. As gratitude is developed, Mature Love becomes possible, and emotional problems greatly diminish. Sections 2 and 3 deal in-depth with the concept of Victorious Love Output.
Victorious Love Output emphasizes the importance of viewpoint, not past experience or the reactions of others. It is a foundational difference between Immature and Mature Love.
- Immature Love is Victimized Love. Since it is saturated with Love Demands, its fulfillment is determined by the reactions of others.
- Mature Love is Victorious Love because it is guided by faith and hope: by faith we love others in the hope that we will feel loved, ultimately. But hope is not demand.
For Dr. Ankenman these are not “assumptions”, but rather well-documented, practical realities growing out of his clinical experience. After decades of similar results, many Xenos counselors and ministers would agree. It is a terrific frustration for many people that these “assumptions” are not well-documented at Xenos.
Part 3 – The Incorporation of Love Ethics
The principles above are clearly biblically-based, and not the product of Dr. Ankenman’s personal observations. They represent ethics as taught in scriptures. But Dr. Ankenman is a clinician and not a Bible teacher, even though he is well-grounded in the scriptures, and so his teachings lack a more systematic, biblical format.
For decades, various attempts were made to capture Dr. Ankenman’s lectures in a more transferable format which might establish the biblical foundations for this body of knowledge. As modern culture continues to grow more confused about Mature Love, it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise Christian workers and leaders with the background and framework to sustain prolonged ministry efforts. This affects the quality of Body Life itself.
Christian literature which describes the biblical framework for love is woefully scant and often misses the significance of Mature Love. In 2007 Keith McCallum, Xenos Sr. Pastor, and Katey Downs, head of Xenos Pastoral Counseling, collected all the known material from Love Therapy and attempted to distill it into what they called Love Ethics, which are ethics found in the Bible.
Love Ethics provides a biblical framework for teaching and applying Love Therapy to everyday Christian life. The teachings of Dr. Ankenman are seeded throughout the Love Ethics series, albeit considerably augmented with scriptures and explications from the Bible.
Ethical Principle #1 – the Primacy of Love
Love is not only the most important ethic, but it is the sum total of all biblical ethics. This principle is supported by a vast body of scriptures, such as:
“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Cor. 16:14)
The health and power of a Christian church is intimately tied to its depth of love relationships, and this is measurable (John 13:35). While all Christian groups understand this principle, the overwhelming distraction and preoccupation with the traditional “worship service” makes it difficult for groups to apply this. Much of the unique character of Xenos is our legacy of understanding and implementing practical love ethics, quite by accident, because of our New Testament definition of “worship” (see Romans 12:1).
It is paramount that Xenos continues to understand, teach and grow in our knowledge of God’s love. As new generations of Christians rise, this knowledge must continue to grow and build thriving Christian communities.
Ethical Principle #2 – Anthropological Significance
The significance of humankind lies comes from our Creator (Gen. 1:27). But this is not merely an abstract theological point. We also must feel significant and become significant in everyday life. Thus Paul says,
“If I have not love, I am nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2
Paul does not mean “I am nothing” in a theoretical sense. In a very practical way, it is through our love relationships that we find significance, and when love relationships fail, the dignity of human life collapses. The human being is uniquely designed to form and create new love relationships. Love Ethics describes this unique capacity and how it works.
Ethical Principle #3 – Soteriological Fulfillment
Soteriology refers to salvation, in general, from bondage to sin and depravity. It begins with faith, which builds hope, and these culminate in love (1Cor. 13:13). Faith is over-rated for too many Christians (1Cor. 13:2). Christian maturity is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6), and not simply faith alone.
The Christian who wishes to live a life of sustained spiritual power and fulfillment must sooner or later cross the bridge from simple faith into the deeper realm of understanding how God’s love works. Soteriology culminates in Redemption through Regeneration, which is nothing less than becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (1Pet. 1:4), which is ultimately manifested in a new ability to love (1Pet. 1:5-7), as in Mature Love (described above). Also known as the “Identity Truths” taught by Watchman Nee, our new identity in Christ means having the power and ability to exercise Mature Love.
Ethical Principle #4 – Preserving the Freedom of Grace
Grace is one of mysteries of God revealed in the New Testament expressly for the purpose of building love relationships (Gal. 5:13). Love relationships are not only embedded in the freedom of Grace, they preserve the integrity of a Grace-based theology (1Cor. 13:4-7).
Ethical Principle #5 – Understanding Ecclesiology
The ecclesia (“church”) of the New Testament revolves around a practical understanding of what a community of love looks like (1 Thess. 4:9-10). The healthy functioning of the Body of Christ necessitates a close inter-dependance (1 Cor. 12:14ff; Eph. 4:1ff) which is only possible through understanding Mature Love (Phil. 2:1-4). Understanding Love Ethics removes the need for an artificial or contrived sense of corporate worship by building a very real experience of “Body Life”.
Ethical Principle #6 – Understanding Theology Proper
By nature “God is love” (1 John 4:8). To understand God’s holiness (“different-ness”) means understanding love (Gal. 5:14). Those who do not practice Mature Love are, unfortunately, struggling to understand and appreciate God Himself (1 John 4:7-8). It means that spirituality-in-isolation, which is becoming increasingly popular in modern Christianity, is actually spirituality-in-darkness (1 Jn. 2:9), and sadly confused.
Most important, to love God means to love others (John 21:17). On this point modern Christianity is greatly confused, not understanding that we are the recipients of God’s love in order to reproduce that love in others (1 John 4:11) through faith in God (Gal. 5:6).
- Ankenman claims to have several thousand state-supported patients, indigents and others he services without charging the fees typical for Psychiatrists. It is typical for him to spend one or two hours with a patient, rather than rushing through three or four per hour. [↩]
- See the NeoZine article on Loneliness for research. [↩]
- See recent PBR broadcast about how neuro-imaging and genetics research demonstrates connections between emotions and the immune system. [↩]
- Read about irrational love in the NeoZine article, “The Power of Love.” [↩]