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 a finger on it. We knew this: He made us uncomfortable. He made things stuffy. We really did not know what to say when he was around. Time with him was always awkward. We would have to walk on eggshells for 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 who thinks differently than I do on many theological issues. On paper, I would think we would not get along at all. But such is not the case. Though we differ – passionately – in many ways, 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 on 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 the 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 to others. 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
  • Responds with anger, sometimes violence, if someone thinks badly about them
  • Disgruntled attitude
  • Always have to get in the last word (or they might look bad)
  • Always must respond (book length) to bad things others say 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
  • Has to be the martyr in every circumstance
  • Can’t take it when people make light-hearted jokes about them
  • Always right
  • Joyful and lighthearted
  • See themselves as the example of truth, stability, and excellence in humanity
  • Never can be the butt of a joke
  • Most certainly, will never be caught 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 something, 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 our own sakes and for the sake of others.

As tragic as it is when people take themselves too seriously in life, it is even 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 translate to us 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 not just 10, but 20 or 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 the “Someone has done me wrong and I am MAD about it!” mentality. It is really a sign of maturity when you can lighten 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 actually 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 of 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 blogosphere 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 offensive enough. We need to quit adding to it with our theological narcissism.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. 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. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    32 replies to "Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously"

    • David G. Pickett

      We are all sinners here. A laugh is the perspective shifting from a me centered universe to one where your insignificance is appallingly obvious. Christians need to keep a humble perspective. We are all fools for Christ.

    • Linda

      Amen. Thanks for sharing that often overlooked perspective, that was awesome and I’m going to keep it mind because I need this.

    • Vicky

      Oh how I loved this big time! could comment and relate to all of this. Jesus spoke to me some years back in His word and said I was white sepulcher(spelling?). I was reading when Jesus was sitting with the publicans and sinners and spoke to the Pharisees. You can imagine my surprise lol lol. Wild isn’t it? It shook me up so bad, my journey began in remaking me. God is truly good!

    • Sorry mate, but “theological narcissism?” I don’t think so. Michael, maybe this is okay in a sermon, but for the P&P, just not for me anyway! (We simply must guard our theological definitions!) Yes, we already live in a stupid, ignorant and most narcissist society, maybe its because I am 63, and just don’t like the 20-30 crowd all that much (and note my son’s are part of this culture). But they are not really centred here, thanks be to God, but I can still see the affect on them! Far too many have gone brain-dead, perhaps too much techno stuff, who knows? Surely the dumbing-down in the last 15 to 20 years or so by postmodernity especially, (btw the child of modernity).

      I have noted btw, that our returning veterans of war from Afghanistan (both the Brits and the Americans), are serious minded! Indeed that is the nature and reality of war! Hopefully the Christian Vet’s coming from such will affect our Western culture more realistically!

      One old man’s view (and always a RMC, Royal Marine Commando).

    • T

      I wonder if this is part of letting our gentleness be evident to all? I’m trying to think of a person who takes themselves too seriously that I also think exudes gentleness. Havin’ a hard time.

    • Clint Roberts

      Thank you. FINALLY someone justifies and vindicates my whole approach to life.

    • Well I am Irish born, so we have plenty of “foolishness” in the Irish culture too, but just not in the area of theology, at least for this Irishman, so seriousness before God: always! But heck I am really a “Calvinist”! (Its not just a label) Btw, whatever happened to the Law/Gospel approach of St. Paul, both Luther and Calvin preached such too!

      I wonder sometimes too, if the American Reformed still remember the great Clark-Van Til debate? And least we forget Clark too was an advocate for presuppositional apologetics. He was an expert in pre-Socratic and ancient philosophy, and he was known for his rigor in defending propositional revelation against all forms of empiricism and rationalism. And he did argue that all truth is propositional and applied the laws of logic in his scriptural defense. His theory of knowledge is sometimes called “scripturalism.”

      *Btw, let me plug too that Clark was an Historic Pre-Mill also (as I am too).

    • Amen there Greg-Tiribulus! Just as the Brits have gone to the dogs too, for the most part! Again “modernity & postmodernity”!

    • Btw, let me quote P.T. Forsyth here: “The non-theological Christ is popular; he wins votes; but he is not mighty; he does not win souls; he does not break men into small pieces and create them anew.” (The Taste of Death and the Life of Grace; 1901)

    • Yes, “Clint”.. you and I are antithetical (that opposites)! Too bad I won’t be alive when your perhaps 60? I would love to see where you are then? Of course that’s if the planet still spins, as it is now? Not picking any fight really with anybody! Just in very different places than many here! But God’s time will tell! 😉

    • Lora

      I’m not sure what Michael means by “theological narcissism”

      I do know that Narcissists resent accountability for their words and for their behavior.

      But what does God’s Word say?

      PEOPLE WILL BE LOVERS OF THEMSELVES
      Narcissism is addressed in the Bible in Paul’s second pastoral epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:1-7) in the fall of A.D.67. Paul seems to be concerned about the character and behavior of leaders within the church, so he warns Timothy to beware of those who act out of a “self love attitude”. He says, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.” Here Paul names many of the attributes associated (in psychology) to-day with the narcissistic personality we are all becoming so familiar with.

      For the rest of the article, go to
      http://narcissisticbehavior.net/category/what-does-the-bible-say-about-narcissistic-behaviour

      Like I said before, I’m not sure what Michael means by “theological narcissism”
      However, I do know the Apostle Paul warned Timothy to turn away from narcissists…..I also know that narcissists are most likely to choose one of two career fields: as preachers and as mental health “professionals”

      For more info:
      M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie

    • @Lora: I don’t think this is where CMP has gone with his statement of “theological narcissism”! It was more of an application I suppose? And one I did not like myself, as he seems to fire this at “Calvinists” it appears (20 30?)… Though he does mention other Christian groups also. And I will say this on his open blog, but his “Calvinism” appears (to this old irishanglican anyway) as just very inconsistent. I know I am somewhat eclectic too, I am something neo-Calvinist, as the likes of an Abraham Kuyper, etc., but this is still most certainly “Calvinist”! But WE are all inconsistent as sinful beings, even ‘In Christ’! So this is a rather friendly disagreement between us!

    • Lora

      Here in America, Calvinism does appear to be extremely inconsistent–especially when it is mixed up with fundamentalism.

      If we want an accurate understanding of Calvinism, then we need to step away from theology of the twentieth century- especially as it developed in America.

      I highly recommend reading
      Fundamentalism and American Culture
      by George Marsden

      He is a first-rate historian 🙂

    • Michael

      Guilty as charged. . .

      But in recovery. . .

    • I love many American Calvinists, both past and present, but I surely agree with you Lora about much of the 20th and 21st century American Calvinism! It must seek to stay closer to the great depth of the Reformed history and divinity. As we can see with the great Genevan Reformers, and along with the Creedal history also. Btw too, there are many Creeds in the Reformed Community besides the Westminster. Would that the non-Calvinists (as Calvinists too) would read many of the other Reformed Creeds. I of course like the Anglican Articles 1615! 🙂

      Btw, for another sort of an American Calvinist book and history, let me recommend D.G. Hart’s book: John Williamson Nevin, High Church Calvinist, (P&R, 2005). And surely too the whole Mercersburg Theology (with Philip Schaff and Nevin). This came out the German Reformed Church in America. Here Hodge and Nevin crossed swords of course! And Nevin certainly had some German theological ideas that of course Hodge did not like, especially theologically for his day.

    • anonymous

      Jesus, as always, is worthy to imitate in this; have to study to get some ideas.

    • Lora

      Thank you Fr Robert for the recommendations.

      I was thinking more along the lines of the Heidelberg Catechism…..
      My previous church had description on website: Reformed in doctrine, Presbyterian in church government, and charismatic in afffections.
      Sounds like healthy balance to me 🙂

    • Lisa Robinson

      Michael, I think you’d be better off writing an article on why we should be theological legalistic and take ourselves seriously. Reverse psychology: it just might work 😀

    • robin

      Great post, we are kind of silly to think that we can understand, categorize and explain God.

    • This article makes me happy.

      I was once confronted in college about being unapproachable and overly serious. Friends felt they couldn’t relax around me. The friend who loved me enough to tell me this was spot-on. So I judged her a hedonist and avoided her *bad* influence. A decade later I can see that she was right. My worldview has since changed for the better.

      I agree that theological narcissists think the world rides on their shoulders and that millions will go to hell if they crack a smile. That’s what I used to think. But anyone who believes that God doesn’t have a sense of humor should look at a platypus. Or a raft of ducks. Or the story of Gideon. Or the Mets. The list goes on…

      A sense of humor helps our theology because it reminds us that we are not God.

    • Reece

      Can’t tell if the typo in title is illustrative or unintentional…

    • Doc Mike

      . . . and the award for Inadvertently Proving Michael’s Point is . . . Fr Robert!

      (For the record, I’m also 63. Which proves nothing, actually, since I might be a 63-year-old fool or wise man.)

    • Aye, the battle over the 63 year old’s eh? (Another evidentalist too I suppose too?) Love it! But your not a 63 year old Retired RMC (Royal Marine Commando), captain (I was a mustang), reserves, with over ten years active service. With combat both at the age of 19 & 20 (Nam.. attached to the American Marine Force Recon), then later in Gulf War 1, in my early 40’s, RMC’s. Yes we all come from somewhere! (Yeah I guess I am Maslow type A?) 😉 Too bad we could not go for run together, I run everyday! And still 155lbs or so at 5″11. Yes, both the Irish and Anglo-Irish pride runs deep! And too btw, Ireland, the land of Saints, Scholars & Kings! 😉

      Again, I have a most natural Irish humor, and yes I can still laugh just a bit! So yes always a bit of the fool and wise man…In life experience! 😉 But not so much over theology and biblical doctrine! That realm is just too precious & serious for me! But then again, I am also a conservative, both political and biblical-theological!

    • Lora

      Conservative is good 🙂

      Fundamentalist? NOT good 🙂

    • @Lora, indeed! I do see the value of some historical critical thinking, but the Holy Scripture always wins out, in itself! Indeed “conservative” but not “fundamentalism”! Btw, I forgot to mention the father of conservatism: Sir Edmund Burke (an Anglo-Irishman, btw).

      You American’s had a good one, William Buckley! Too bad he’s gone now!

    • I must be honest here, and say, I think Michael’s epistemology is closer to the world or pagan like. Sure GOD uses something here, i.e. the Jewish Hellenistic, and the Greco-Roman, seen in both Paul (the Pauline) and John (the Johannine), but we cannot sort out the complete difference ourselves, fully. It has become part of the Revelation of God itself in Holy Scripture! So a presuppositional evidence, only exists to my mind!!! The Authority is always the Word of God alone! But in “spirit and truth”. Again, this is part of the big difference between the Presuppositional verses the Evidential. The latter is always the way or mind-set of unbelief or non-belief! WE will never merely argue someone into the Kingdom of God! (1 Cor. 1 & 2)

      But again, a friendly debate! 🙂

    • PS..Though we can argue that their suppositions are wrong or flawed! 🙂 This really is part of the big difference between Calvinism and Arminianism! Sorry I will quit on this subject, it is not really part of this blog. But it does go back to why we MUST take the Word of God most seriously!

    • Lora

      So we choose between Tertullian’s attitude towards philosophy and Justin Martyr’s positive approach….I choose Justin Martyr 🙂

      I enjoy epistemology…..best account of feminist epistemology is in II Kings 4…LOL

      On a more serious note….I believe it is best to share our faith with unbelievers by finding common ground-(general revelation) faith according to reason.

      If we share faith above reason (special revelation) with unbelievers, then they will interpret it as faith contrary to reason until they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

      After all, no one was ever argued into the kingdom of God 🙂

      For this reason, I believe it is best to keep presuppositionalism among Christians inside the church.

    • Indeed “common grace”, as approached by Abraham Kuyper. I have his book: The Work of the Holy Spirit (660pages), with intro., by Benjamin Warfield. Just grand! But in the end, we simply MUST go to the Presupposition of the Word of God!

      Btw, I would reject the idea that faith excludes reason, but it does in the end, transcend it, i.e. God transcends His own logic! This is one of things that holds the man of unbelief, still within himself! God is always both “transcendent” and “immanent” at one and the same time! Modern or man of both modernity and postmodernity will never figure out GOD! (Especially a Sovereign God)

    • Btw, I really like old Tertullian myself.. “Quintus”! One of the very early Trinitarian thinkers! His famous formulation: “tres personae, una substantia” (three persons, one substance). See too his book: Against Praxeas. But again, with Origen, the struggle can be seen in their search to elucidate the concept and idea for which there was no precedent: God Triune!

    • @Greg: Yes Tertullian was always one for the ideal! But see too in his theology the great place of Antitheses in God! He was a great thinker! Some have called him the first theologian of the West!

      Btw, here’s a guy who took nothing lightly! 😉

    • Mike

      Note to self: When you address a tense and brooding blogosphere with a plea to lighten up, expect people who take themselves too seriously to fill the comments… seriously… and about themselves… always wanting the last word.

      I lolled.

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