A friend stopped to talk with me after a Sunday service. He told me that someone had told him that “Phillip had gone off the rails.”
“But,” my friend said, “I don’t believe him.”
I got home and Googled the phrase and read this: “The phrase has been used since the mid-1800s and is a reference to a train derailment. When a train goes off the rails it is no longer progressing along its preordained track and is uncontrollable and chaotic.”
Well, that doesn’t sound good at all. Derailed trains are tragic.
Have I gone off the rails?
I guess going “off the rails” meant that I was, at one time, “on the rails.”
Whose rails? Who laid the rails? Are the rails of theology set?
I get it. Sometimes it’s good to stay on the rails – if you’re a train.
It’s good to…
- Stay in our lane when we drive.
- Stay in our lane when we are riding in the Kentucky Derby! It was a wild ride at the Derby. Maximum Security crossed the finish line first but got a DQ when it was determined that he got out of his lane and interfered with other horses. Just like football I guess. So, Country House, a 65-1 underdog, won the first American Triple Crown race. The lesson here, I guess, is, “Never throw away your ticket in anger.” Or, in horse racing, stay in your lane.
But is it good to stay on the rails of theology? In no way am I putting myself in the same category as the following folks, but their story certainly makes me question the rigidness of rails.
-Jan Hus, a precursor to the Protestant Reformers, asserted that:
*no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church, and
*that a Christian should pray for his enemies and bless those who curse him, and
*that a person is forgiven of sins by true repentance, not by making a donation to the church (Not a bad way to increase the offering!)
Hus was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.
-C.S. Lewis, a hero to Evangelicals:
*did not hold to the penal substitutionary theory of atonement,
*thought and taught that it is possible for people in other religions to inherit the kingdom of God without knowing it, and, perhaps the biggest derailment of all,
*rejected the view of Biblical Inerrancy.
And, last but not least,
-Jesus, according to the religious authorities of the day, went off the rails (John 5:18; Mark 2:5-7; Matthew 9:2-3; Luke 5:20-21; John 8:58-59; John 10:30-33; Mark 14:61-64).
Then there is Rachel Held Evans – writer, blogger, reformer. I read her first book, Evolving in Money Town in 2010. Reading it brought relief. With each page, I thought, “I’m not alone with my questions, with my exhaustion with a constricted, restricted view of God and spirituality.” Her words on paper removed my feeling of weirdness for thinking and feeling what I was thinking and feeling. Rachel was raised between conservative evangelical rails. I lived on those rails as well.
Rachel died Saturday from massive brain swelling after receiving treatment for an infection. Words of grief, appreciation and honor have poured in. But, so have ominous words of judgment and warning.
When she was facing death, the nicest of the comments went something like, “We don’t agree with her theologically but we are praying for her.” Upon her death, other writers were just mean. One website carried two articles, one titled, “Heretical Author, Rachel Held Evans Dead at 37.” The other is titled, “How Do We Respond to the Death of an Apostate?”
Some might say she has “Gone off the rails.”
Rachel showed a different way to understand God, to love the Bible, to follow Jesus. For many, her way is the reason they remained Christian. Instead of throwing out God and Christianity, she showed a spirituality outside the rails between which she was raised.
As a Baptist by birth, I was born into a tradition that valued reform. We were products of the reformation. People today still value reform –
In the past.
It’s strange isn’t it? We honor, respect, revere the people who colored outside of the lines, the risk-takers, the revolutionaries. We honor them…
- from a distance.
- in the past.
Not up close and in the present.
The person who said I had “gone off the rails” may have said it out of concern. Or warning. Or judgment. I don’t know.
I do know that I’m ok with it.
I know that I don’t have it all figured out.
I know that we are reformed and need to keep being reformed to the image of the Christ.
I know that that means we have to, at times, get off the track.