Taking the gospel seriously without taking ourselves too seriously

By John D. Pierce

Entering a new academic pursuit during my campus ministry years in the late-‘80s, I would make regular treks across metro Atlanta. My routine was to leave in the early morning hours to avoid traffic, and settle into a never-closed Denny’s for breakfast.

With a continuing flow of coffee, I would read until the sun came up fully and the library opened at Columbia Theological Seminary. This routine worked well as my educational exploration would wrap up in time for the afternoon and evening activities in which campus ministry occurred.

The first assignment upon entering this degree program was to write a lengthy philosophy of ministry paper. After wrestling with such personal and theological reflections, I was feeling pretty good about the results — except for the ending.

Before submitting the paper to professor Doug Hix — and his colleagues from other Atlanta area seminaries collaborating in this initial seminar — I wanted to find a fitting summary statement.

One afternoon, while driving back from the Decatur campus to the Marietta one where our student ministry was based, my mind continued running through all kinds of ways of wrapping up my writing. Then it hit me.

My philosophy of ministry was summarized in this way: to take the gospel seriously without taking myself too seriously.

While I’ve not always lived up to that needed balance — it is a worthy and constant goal.

To err on either side is to get out of balance — missing the primary calling to humbly follow Jesus. And God knows what happens when we take ourselves too seriously — and start acting like God is looking to us to carry out what uniquely belongs to God.

Conflating taking the gospel seriously with taking oneself too seriously is how we end up with pompous religious asses like John McArthur telling Beth Moore to “go home” — assuming he has the divine authority to determine whom God calls to what tasks.

The lack of humility makes arrogant gatekeepers out of us — as if we are charged with guarding the kingdom clubhouse.

Taking the gospel seriously without taking oneself too seriously is more than a good balancing act. It is also a freeing experience.

That perspective allows for us to mess up — and even laugh at our human failures. It helps us to realize that God loves us in all the humanity in which we were created — but is not dependent upon us to straighten everyone else out.

Admittedly, much of my theological understanding has changed throughout my lifetime — including the decades since writing that initial paper and many others that followed, including the extensive dissertation required for graduation.

But, overall, my philosophy remains the same:

To take the gospel seriously — which is demanding in terms of the compassion, love, discipline, justice and sacrifice required. Following Jesus is very hard, though it is not complicated.

To avoid taking ourselves too seriously — which calls for constant reminders that not as much weighs on our shoulders as we might think.

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