I remember many years ago talking with a friend of mine about another friend. There was something about this guy that we did not like, but we could not put our finger on it. We knew this: He made us uncomfortable. He made things stuffy. You really did not know what to say when he was around. Time with him was always awkward. We would have to walk on egg shells in fear of saying the wrong thing. The wrong thing would always cause the conversation to go in a totally unexpected way.

Finally, we figured it out. He took himself too seriously.

Since last week I have been in a conversation with a guy that thinks differently than I on many theological issues. From a distance, I would think that we would not get along at all. But such is not the case. Though we differ in many ways—passionately differ—we are having the best time in this long-distance fellowship. Why? Because this guy knows how to lighten things up in order for conversation to take place. He is very wise. He intentionally does not take himself too seriously at pivotal points. He lightens the conversation when it begins to become burdensome. He recognizes it is not about him or what I think of him. 

Chuck Swindoll used to say (you know I have a quote from him!), “Don’t take yourself too seriously…after all, no one else does!”

Sometimes we get caught in a trap of taking ourselves too seriously about everything. We take ourselves so seriously that our relationships suffer. We take ourselves so seriously that no one wants to be around us. We take ourselves so seriously that we lose all our influence. We take ourselves so seriously that the very thought of being around us becomes burdensome. Some of us just need to lighten up . . . a lot!

Some characteristics of those who take themselves too seriously:

  • Can’t look bad in front of others
  • Are always concerned about their image as they think others see it
  • If someone thinks badly about them they respond in anger, sometimes even violence
  • Disgruntled attitude 
  • Always have to get in the last word (or they might look bad)
  • Always must respond (book length) to what others say bad about them
  • If they get a hate email they delete it and never think about it again
  • Always trying to prove themselves to everyone else
  • They are the martyr in every circumstance
  • Can’t take it when people make light-hearted jokes about them
  • They are always right
  • Joyful and lighthearted
  • They see themselves as the example of truth, stability, and excellence in humanity
  • Never can be the butt of a joke
  • Most certainly, they will  never be found making fun of themselves

Oh, and here are some adjectives that go along with it: annoyed, testy, bellyaching, crabby, cranky, always disappointed, peeved, put out, discontent, discontented, griping, always irritated about some thing, malcontent, malcontented, and sulky.

It is not as though we hope for people who are always joking, jesting, light-hearted, never taking themselves or anyone else seriously (we have all been around this type as well), but many of us need some intentional and strategic comic relief for the sake of others and for the sake of ourselves.

As tragic as this is when people take themselves too seriously in life, it is much more so in theology. Of course, like with life in general, we need to take it seriously—very seriously. But we should be careful not to let our passions be a cause for being unnecessarily burdensome and heavy in our personality. Many of us need to take ten and laugh a bit. Many of us need to learn to laugh at ourselves. And we need to let others laugh with us and at us! 

What are we? Theological narcissists? Evangelicals, we need to laugh at ourselves every once in awhile and let others laugh with us. Catholics, the same. Baptists, Presbyterians, Orthodox, and Arminians as well. In fact, this goes for everyone. Lighten up! Lighten up so that we can listen. Calvinists: come on! There are plenty of ways we need to lighten the loads. Some Calvinists, we need to take 20 30!  Premillennialists: can’t we talk about our charts all day and get some laughs?

This was the death of the emerging movement. No one wanted to be around them. They took themselves way too seriously. I know: I tried. I understood. I agreed on many things. I just could not be around them. It was always the someone-has-done-me-wrong-and-I-am-mad-about-everything mentality.

It is really a sign of maturity when you can lighten things up. With teens, everything is the end of the world. They don’t have the ability to step away from themselves and see how their personal intensity is rather comical. Everything is too serious.

“But wait! If we don’t take ourselves seriously, others won’t either.”

This is simply not true. If you said, “If we don’t ever take ourselves seriously, others won’t either,” this would be true. I am simply saying that we need to lighten up every once in awhile. The fact is that when we lighten things up, people will take us more seriously when it matters. As well, people won’t feel so burdened to be around us.

Let’s take a cue from marriage conferences. They know how to make couples laugh. They poke fun at the idiosyncrasies in both husbands and wives. I often go to Family Life Conferences just to laugh at myself. They know they have to provide some comic relief precisely because the subject is so intense and needs to be taken seriously.

The evangelical blog world out there has become so intense that I don’t want to keep up. The intensity causes us to lose our perspective. Polemics can be wearying.

My point is simple. Theological discourse needs to have a time-out for comic relief.

Tomas Oden gets this: “Because of piety’s penchant for taking itself too seriously, theology–more than literary, humanistic, and scientific studies–does well to nurture a modest, unguarded sense of comedy. Some comic sensibility is required to keep in due proportion the pompous pretensions of the study of divinity. I invite the kind of laughter that wells up not from cynicism about reflection on God but from the ironic contradictions accompanying such reflections. Theology is intrinsically funny.  This comes from glimpsing the incongruity of humans thinking about God. I have often laughed at myself as these sentences went through their tortuous stages of formation. I invite you to look for the comic dimension of divinity that stalks every page. It is not blasphemy to grasp the human contradiction for what it is. The most enjoyable of all subjects has to be God, because God is the source of all joy.”

Michael J. G. Pahls gets it too, “Never attempt the task of theology without a smirk on your face and never trust a theologian who lacks one.”

Let’s try to lighten up every once in a while. Let’s let go of the burden here and there. Let’s not give people any more excuses than they already have for not wanting to be around us. The Gospel is an offense enough. We need to quit adding to it by our theological narcissism.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    29 replies to "A Theology of Not Taking Ourselves Too Seriously or "Strategic Comic Relief in Theology""

    • C Michael Patton

      BTW: If anyone criticizes this post (or the grammar), I am going to write a blog just about you…and it is not going to be pretty.

    • Jugulum

      Your posts never are, Michael.

      *eats popcorn, waits*

    • Dr_Mike

      Wait! There are grammatical errors? It’s not pretty?


      And again I say,


    • Cadis

      How is it a Blog post about lightening(?) up can be such a downer ? That list reminds me of my mother-in-law, I’m depressed.

    • C Michael Patton

      Are you calling me a downer?

    • #John1453

      If one parses CMP’s words carefully, which we all of course do, then one will immediately note the referential nature of “this”. CMP is, obviously, referring only to his post #2 and not to his lede post. I think that post #2 is brilliant and has flawless grammar.

      The lede post, however, is another matter. For example, “My point is simple. Theological discourse needs to have a time-out for comic relief.” should be repunctuated as “My point is simple: theological discourse needs to have a time-out for comic relief.” To further flesh out these concerns would take me past the 3,000 character limit, and I’m also hungry.


    • Jugulum

      (P.S. For those who couldn’t tell, I wasn’t being serious. Just testing Michael on the “don’t take ourselves too seriously” thing.)

    • Cadis

      Michael in # 6 ,,,Yes! because you couldn’t write a whole blog post about me. I’m not that interesting 🙂

    • #John1453

      Cadis, is your mother-in-law perhaps my mother? They certainly seem like the same person, at least in the first half of the list–I couldn’t finish the list because I do suffer from clinical depression and I was worried that finishing the list might make me suicidal on a night when I’m supposed to finish painting the front hall. Do you think we might get banned even if we only imply that the lede is a downer without actually explicitly stating that?

      sad John

    • #John1453

      Jugulum, how can I know that you’re being serious now? Perhaps the inverse of what you said is true. It’s giving me epistemic conniption fits.

    • Jugulum

      I’ve got a cream that can clear that right up.

    • #John1453

      Thank God (see #14 in the lede to “The Beginner’s Guide to Christianity: Thirty-One Things You Need to Know Right Now”), because I’m starting to scratch.

    • mbaker

      Hey, I’m totally exempt from this sort of thing myself because I’m part Irish. Gives me a running head start anyway. 🙂

      Oh, okay, okay, I get it, dad.

    • Dr_Mike

      “I remember many years ago talking with a friend of mine about another friend . . .”

      Yeah, right. Like you might ever have two friends.

    • mbaker

      Someone once said we could be examples or warnings as Christians. I’d venture to say we are all hybrids.

    • Cadis

      I don’t know # John, I guess we will find out because as you can see I right out to his face called him a downer!

      ok he said “are you calling me a downer?” and I said yes!

      If this doesn’t post, or if you never hear from me again then let that be your proof I was banned or it might mean my mother-in-law came to visit or #John’s mother stopped for a visit…..*shivers *

    • Tony

      THANK YOU for this post! Also the “30 Things” post yesterday. They’re a riot!

      I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted to scream in both church and seminary, “Dudes, would you lighten up just a little bit?? This is way too important to not laugh about!”

      Too often “the joy of the Lord” is simply an entry in a Biblical dictionary 🙂

    • mbaker

      Another deep philosophical treatise on not taking yourself too seriously in this life:


    • R Wolf

      Too Funny!

    • #John1453

      Tony, “. . . simply an entry in a Bible dictionary”. Too funny, and also, sadly, sometimes too true (but not always, or even mostly, at least not in my house! (three boys doing fart sounds during supper. What more can I say?)). You should repost this under the previous thread; it’s a great addition to the list.

    • Jim

      “They see themselves as the example of truth, stability, and excellence in humanity ”

      I know a fellow believer who comes to the church every day to pray at 6:00 am. Then he goes to work. He never makes the mid week prayer service…………. should I tell him God doesn’t
      stay there after the Sunday service. Home prayer is just as effective……… or should I follow his example.

    • J.R.

      Only for “Okies” (Oklahoman’s).

      One day my pastor (Baptist) posted a comment on his Facebook wall about his experience at the state fair. He is new to our church from North Carolina. The statement went something like this: “I haven’t seen this many toothless people since a Willy Nelson concert”. I thought it was hilarious and meant to be funny and was glad I was not at the fair that night to be included in this group of toothless people. By the responses to his wall post you would have thought he stood with those who crucified Christ.

      Pastors and those in the ministry BEWARE what you post on Facebook. Search committees may be watching!!

      Good post Michael, we need to laugh at ourselves once in awhile!

    • Sam Ochstein

      You used my favorite Tom Oden quote!!!!! In fact, I just used that when I posted a link to your last post on “31 Things” on my own blog for folks in my church to see. Thanks for your insight and for the comic relief! We need it!!!

    • Dave B


    • C Michael Patton

      Sam, that is where I got the quote! Thanks!! You inspired this.

    • ritaneo

      this is good inspired for me i realy needed..

    • Cory Howell


      As soon as I saw the title of this blog post, I thought of the Thomas Oden’s quote, which you have recorded here. It’s one of the things that resonated with me immediately, when I began to read his book Classic Christianity. One of the things that epitomizes “ivory tower theology” is their consistent “high tone.” The big words and the complex sentences often are very offputting to the “average Christian.” Not that dumbing down theological terminology is a good thing; the average layperson can master quite a bit of theological terminology, in my opinion. But people know when they’re being talked down to. It reminds me of the great T-shirt slogan I saw: “Eschew obfuscation.”

    • […] • A The­ol­ogy of Not Tak­ing Our­selves Too Seriously […]

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