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Donald Rumsfeld and the Return of Christ

Preparing for Series Three in our Romans Project

I am in the lead-in to our third season of Bible studies in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. We have completed

  1. Series One – Introduction and ‘Guilty’
  2. Series Two – ‘From Death to Life’

and now we have in prospect Series Three, Romans 9-11 that I have entitled ‘What about Israel?’ I have to admit a certain nervousness in contemplating some of the issues involved in this section. Although I don’t propose to do an in-depth study of the truths of the Return of Christ (or Parousia) it is inevitable that we shall touch on some aspects of these controversial topics. Christians, Good, godly Christians have very different views on these matters and where Christians vary so widely we do well to tread with a little humility.

The unknown unknowns

Some time ago Donald Rumsfeld avoided a question with a famous few sentences. It became famous for a while; ‘the Unknown Unknowns‘. He quoted a well-known adage that there are three areas of knowledge and ignorance.

  1. There are ‘known’ knowns
  2. There are ‘known’ unknowns. That is to say ‘there are things we do not know and we know that we do not know them’.
  3. There are also ‘unknown unknowns’. ‘Things that we don’t know that we don’t know.’

It caused a few moments of amusement among the news gatherers but it was not an original comment but a well known comment among project managers.

The Millennium Bug

For a few years I worked with an international bank on the Y2K issue, the Millennium Bug. Millions of pounds/dollars were spent in readying the financial world for the moment when the numbers ‘2000’ appeared in financial calculations. I won’t bore you with the details but Rumsfeld’s saying was constantly in our minds. The real danger was not the ‘known unknowns’. We had comprehensive inventories, impact analyses and ways of testing that would systematically cover the area of the ‘known unknowns’. The area that caused the greatest anxieties was that area of the ‘unknown unknown’ and more particularly how things that we didn’t know that we didn’t know would impact national and international finance.

Cosmologists and Students of Prophecy

The phrase comes to mind when considering the Biblical revelation of the Return of Christ. Some are convinced that they have sufficient data to declare watertight schedules for the Return. Some are more cautious. They are more aware of the ‘unknown unknowns’. They know that any of those unknowns may skew their precise schedules. I used to be an expert on this area. I had the charts to prove it. I have read the writings of godly Bible expositors who have boldly declared what would happen next and what would follow that. Some spent the latter years of their lives writing books to recant their earlier predictions. There is a phrase once used by a cosmologist that comes strongly to mind. “cosmologists; often in error, never in doubt.” For ‘cosmologists’ substitute the words ‘students of prophecy’ and you have another well established truth. The predictions of those I have trusted most have all unravelled. The sobering thing is the way in which those proved to be in error calmly move on to their next best-seller with a revised schedule but no apologies. ‘Often in error, but never in doubt’.

We know in part…

Some years ago I was asked to speak at the Oxford University Christian Union on 1 Thessalonians 4 and was required to sign a disclaimer that said ‘all speakers are to be aware that a wide spectrum of opinion is held among Christian students’ and requested that I undertake ‘not to offend the opinions of such’. I promised I would ‘do my best not to offend the Pre-Millennialists, or the Post-Millennielists or the Amillennielists. I would also keep in mind the Pre-Tribulationist, the Mid-Tribulationalists, the Post Tribulationalists or even the Partial Rapturists’. I suggested that if I succeeded I might consider a career among the diplomats of the United Nations. The committee was happy with the spirit of the answer and we had a good time together declaring the certainties of the Return and reminding ourselves of the ‘gaps in our data’.

I am often asked questions for which I have no answer. I try my best but frequently my sign-off contains a few initials from a statement of Paul. WKIP – we know in part…

So tell me, what do you think?

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