While all this was happening, the 2000 election happened, 11 September, and the buildup to the Iraq War.
I was still classified as inactive Reserve and that was not due to expire until March 2003. Throughout all of 2002 I watched with dread as the country slipped into hysteria and Bush beat the drums of war. That summer I got a letter in the mail telling me my formal/final discharge was on hold as they were calling up people from the inactive reserve to come back to active duty.
I was not going to back into the Air Force and I certainly was not going to participate in the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. By early 2001 I was solidly where I'm at now on these issues. By 2002 I was adamant and determined. We talked about leaving the country. At the time we had three children but little money. Looking back I wish we had found a way. One of the best ways to understand this culture is to live outside it for a season. Upon your return, if you’re a reflective person, you will see everything in a very different light.
March 2003 approached and literally a day or two after the invasion I got my final discharge letter in the mail. It was over. They couldn't call me up anymore. We praised the Lord that day. Finally I was absolutely 100% a civilian.
The years plodded on. I had discovered Kline, and his Two-Kingdom version of Reformed theology around the year 1997. After years of hearing him critiqued I wanted to read him for myself and his both historic and recast theology opened up a whole new world for me, but also more frustrations as I realized I was moving further and further from the Reformed mainstream. While there are plenty in Reformed circles who appreciate him, increasingly the theology of Two Kingdoms is coming under condemnation. If Transformationalism is the new orthodoxy as one man put it not long ago, then eventually the Two Kingdom understanding of the Bible will be out of bounds.
Some of the more able advocates are hindered and crippled by the fact that they're trying to stay within the claims of Historic Reformed theology or in some cases erroneously arguing this position is historic. It's not. There have been many variations in Reformed Protestantism and some camps have tended more that way than others, but largely most Protestant groups have rejected this view of the Kingdom. It has a historical basis, but not in Reformed theology and despite the name similarity it is not the position of historic Lutheranism either.
Forced to wrestle with this myself, I discovered that in fact it's a position quite similar to some of the Medieval Dissenters and later the Anabaptists. Since I'm not committed to being part of a Reformed faction I'm not compelled to try and make it fit with the Westminster Confession or the Three Forms of Unity which specifically repudiate it.
My friends and I had read through and discussed Calvin, Owen, Turretin and others while in Italy and we had been so excited to return to the United States and get into Reformed Churches. We were disappointed. We started to realize very few really had read Calvin and many were holding to later forms of Reformed theology represented more by the Princeton school of the 19th century. To us most Calvinists were in fact Hyper-Calvinists. Covenantal Theology was talked about, but most people seemed to hold to what we considered to be a more Baptistic anti-Covenantal understanding.
We just didn't find the vitality we'd hoped for but that said it can't be denied the Reformed are easily the most intellectually vibrant group within theologically conservative Protestantism.
My wife and I joined with the PCA but the drive was long. We were traveling about 90 minutes each direction. Sunday was a long and tiresome day, especially with small children. Though well behaved, the day was taxing to all of us. We were struggling financially. I found with contracting (construction/remodeling) that if you're trying to be honest and reasonable you're not likely to do very well. There are a lot of guys around that are driving $40,000 pickup trucks with their names painted on the side. They've got pompous dispositions but in many cases (not all) they're ripping people off, they're doing poor work and charging top rates. It's pretty discouraging to get called in after some of these men to finish their work or fix it, and see what they've done and then realize how much money they're making. In some cases the work is sub-standard but people don’t know the difference. And in America people fall for marketing gimmicks. A fancy truck and a jacket with an embroidered name grant legitimacy to many.
As a Christian I’ve struggled with the whole idea of ‘selling’ myself. On one level it has to be done to procure work, but on the other hand I don’t want to stray into the realm of being disingenuous, friendly with a false pretense. I don’t want to feel like used car salesman stroking someone’s weakness or an insurance salesman telling half-truths and trying to sell things to people that they don’t need.
It’s the same with many stores and restaurants. Americans like the plastic and neon flavour, the uniformity of the franchise more than the individual enterprise. It’s really a foundation of our culture, easily noticed by the ubiquitous and uniformly static sprawl on the edge of every city. I find it soulless and depressing, but I’ve talked to many who find comfort in visiting the same Applebee’s or the same McDonalds in every city and every ten highway exits all across the country. They’re drawn by these places. I always do my utmost to ignore them and look elsewhere. I think there’s a moral element to this whole cultural trend. It’s consumerism enshrined and it has decimated local culture and variation, leaving America a nation of what I often call the plastic franchise, the McStore, the McRestaurant, the McCoffee Shop and so forth. It’s a culture that works hard to breed discontent so that you’ll by things. It’s a culture that works hard to get individuals to identify themselves with brands, labels, franchises, and logos.
I live in a depressed area...we didn't even notice the 2008 recession, our housing market has been depressed for a couple of decades. This area has the dubious double distinction of being the Rust Belt and Appalachia. Nevertheless the area is not unpleasant and can actually be quite interesting if your eyes are open. It creates a strange cultural dynamic. The monied people like all the marketing accoutrements which cost a lot of money and raise one’s overhead. The regular folk are often lacking money and are looking for ways to cut corners which can lead to other practical and ethical frustrations.
Anyway, after several years our van had over 200,000 miles (300,000km) on it, and we couldn't make the drive anymore. Gasoline prices hadn't quite exploded yet but that was soon to come. I wasn't going to miss the PCA. We ended our relationship with them and I swore I would never enter another Presbyterian Church. As I often do, I've had to eat my words...we're attending a PCA startup about 30 miles from us right now. We'll see what happens. I reject their whole concept of denominational membership and without it they cut you off from the Lord's Supper....so I'm not sure how this will end up.
We've had Bible Studies in our home. The PCA pastor from years ago used to drive down and lead a gathering at our house. When that stopped I picked it up for awhile. There are many people who are unhappy with the lack of quality teaching at their own churches. They long for more and come to the studies...but they're not ready to leave and start meeting with a new group in someone's house or at the local fire hall. That's too outlandish, too non-institutional. It's amazing how these silly buildings with steeples grant legitimacy in people's minds. The pastor can be all but an atheist or agnostic (as some of them in fact are)...but he's granted credibility because he has a building and an institution behind him.
After all these years, struggling to find our place and yet never flagging in the least in terms of study and growth, ever desiring to learn and teach...to share these things...I finally decided in 2010 to start writing. Why not?
I knew since I lacked credentials no one would really care too much about anything I was saying. Sadly in the Reformed world unless you've got the right letters after your name and unless you're plugged into the right denominational/institutional structure...you're wasting your breath.
They're largely only concerned with their faction's claims to this or that historical personage or confessional document. Each group is trying to argue they are the true representatives of the Westminster Confession or some other person or work. When you come along and say...who cares? And even when you explain why you’re saying that, they're not really interested in what you have to say anymore. Questioning the system isn't worthy of consideration.
Sadly more than one Reformed pastor has admitted...what you're saying might be true, but it doesn't really matter, because it will never get through presbytery (the regional body).
So what's the point in trying to please them or work through their system? If there’s no audience, then what would I hope to accomplish?