We are pleased to announce the launch, today, of our completely redesigned website and blog. (My warm thanks to Chris Engelsma for his assistance!)

We have moved everything under the umbrella of one site now, which you can find here.

As an accessory to our blog, “Cosmic Eye,” we have introduced our Twitter feed, called “Cosmic Blink.”

If you’re new to WRI, please consider subscribing to  “Cosmic Eye” (via RSS) and following “Cosmic Blink” on Twitter. If you’ve been with us for some time, please review your bookmarks or linked feeds to ensure that you’ll not be missing anything.

Featured on this newly launched site is the first of three chapters from our translation of Woord, water en wijn: Gedachten over prediking, doop en avondmaal, by C. Trimp (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1989; ET: Word, Water, and Wine: Thoughts about Preaching, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper). This first chapter deals with preaching.

Please enjoy . . . and spread the word!

(User alert: we’re still working on linking and activating a number of audio files.)

Dr. Adrian Pabst
Lecturer in Politics
University of Kent

After a lapse of several years, I am a renewed listener to Mars Hill Audio Journal, having received a subscription as a Christmas present. I can assure you: whether you acquire the issues of this audio journal as MP3 files or CDs, you’ll be able to savor the wide-ranging interviews and commentary with host Ken Myers in various contexts. My favorites are while exercising and driving around doing errands.

One of several fascinating interviews in the latest volume of MHJ (#115) was with Adrian Pabst, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Kent, a Fellow of the Center of Theology and Philosophy, who has written a new book: Metaphysics: The Creation of Hierarchy (Eerdmans, 2012).
From the Mars Hill Audio Journal website we learn the following about the interview:

Adrian Pabst discusses the theological nature of metaphysics. He begins with addressing why metaphysics came to be dismissed by public intellectuals in wider society. Thinkers like Comte, Nietzsche, and Marion viewed metaphysics as a straitjacket, an obscuring obstacle and constraint upon our minds in pursuit of the truth. Pabst takes issue with this disregard of metaphysics, often based on misunderstandings of philosophers, foremost among whom is Plato. He discusses common misreadings of Plato focusing on dualism, and explains how Plato understood the relationship between the unity and multiplicity of the reality we all experience. Pabst highlights the notion of participation as key to this relationship, as well as the fundamentally relational and self-giving nature of truth, goodness, beauty, justice, and other transcendental ideas. While premodern philosophers were able to discover much of the metaphysical nature of reality, Pabst argues the personal and relational nature of the Creator in the Biblical tradition as necessary to explain the most basic questions of matter and reality that Plato could not answer. Pabst explains how a truer understanding of metaphysics would make “the common good” a coherent concept and aid in the cultivation of an alternative modernity.

Midway through the interview, Ken Myers both summarizes and editorializes upon what he and Adrian Pabst had just finished discussing. Says Myers:

At the beginning of this segment I said that modern politics typically excludes discussion about the nature of things from political debate. The political debate about good policies must be grounded in some idea about how to define the common good. And behind visions of the common good there are usually unstated assumptions about “the good.” Perhaps one of the reasons our political conversations are so rancorous and so deadlocked is that we falsely assume that we can talk about things like creating wealth, or promoting justice, or redefining marriage without any discussion about what these things really are.

Our deepest disagreements are finally metaphysical, which is to say that they’re finally theological. But we’re not allowed to bring such fundamental questions into public debate, even though metaphysical and theological assumptions are regularly smuggled into our policies.

In short: we cannot talk about “the common good” without defining “the good,” and we cannot define “the good” apart from metaphysics—which is to say: we cannot define “the common good” apart from theology, and without reference to God.

all-cashIn some ways, the blog “Christian in America” is often interesting, occasionally helpful, but sometimes unclear.

Take this post, for example.

In a day when Tim Keller has become the target du jour of many Reformed and Presbyterian TR militants, I genuinely appreciate this refreshingly positive appeal to his book, Generous Justice. I deeply doubt the claim that ignoring Calvin, natural law, and common grace accounts for diminished trust undergirding today’s so-called culture war. And I heartily endorse the call to—note the adjective— Christian love, compassion, and civility as essential conditions for effective Christian participation in the public square, though I remain dubious about any call for Christians to “win public trust” in the public square.

There you have the heart, the thrust, the meat of the post.

A throw-away line?

My concern, however, involves a single sentence that, in the context of current discussions among Reformed and Presbyterians about Christian participation in the public square, without further explanation and concretization, may become nothing more than a throw-away line.

The precise function of this sentence in the author’s argument is quite unclear. In the essay, and in the concluding paragraphs, there is so very, very much with which to agree. But then the fog comes rolling in.

The point is not that we should avoid disagreements or that we should compromise our fundamental commitments. Heaven forbid. The point, rather, is that we need to work hard to conduct our disagreements, to wage our political campaigns, and to convert our cultural opponents with a spirit of love and respect – to allure them rather than to defeat them. Such love and respect involves the recognition of truth wherever it appears alongside the sort of honesty that allows us to communicate our deepest concerns. It also requires, I believe, the acceptance of the particular political virtues on which our governmental system depends – equal regard, commitment to deliberative processes, and a willingness to compromise within the constraints of basic justice and morality.

Who among “us” could disagree? Who among “us” would disagree? Does anyone among “us” disagree with this?

The immediately following paragraph begins with a contrastive statement:

There are certainly lines we will not be able to cross. We cannot support the state’s refusal to protect innocent life nor can we endorse its moral affirmation of same-sex marriage.

It’s almost as if the author had written: “But even though we must be loving and respectful, there are certainly lines we will not be able to cross.” “We” can go only so far, and no further.

Then follow two examples: “we” cannot support abortion and same-sex marriage. (I surmise the author meant: “We should not support” the state’s permitting these activities.)

Without any further explanation of this claim, however, we are immediately led back to the essay’s main thesis:

But even in a society in which the state stubbornly pursues such policies, we can maintain the sort of social and political commitment to our fellow citizens that makes trust possible, whether by helping to carry the enormous burdens faced by single mothers or by seeking to alleviate the fears of tyranny among those committed to the sexual revolution, whether by supporting legal recognition (and its consequent privileges and benefits) of non-marital relationships or by demonstrating to gays and lesbians our unshakeable and sincere commitment to their equality under the law.

Again, let me state my hearty agreement with this call to compassionate justice as the essential Christian witness in the public square.

However, for several years now, advocates of Christian participation in public life have been criticized loudly and aggressively, even derisively, by some proponents of modern versions of “two kingdom” theology for seeking to explain and concretize the cash value of precisely that conviction being expressed in the underlined sentence. Election year 2012 provided ample opportunity for such concretizing. But as soon as someone began to concretize that assertion underlined above—as in: recommend that Christians find alluring, loving, respectful, and viable ways to oppose abortion or same-sex marriage, at the ballot box, in political campaigns, etc.—that’s when simple believers were shut down, loudly, aggressively, and derisively with rhetoric about “you may not bind the believer’s conscience” or “don’t confuse the kingdoms” or “quit blurring the spiritual and the temporal.”

An invitation

Without concretizing that underlined sentence—consider this an invitation—that sentence functions, in the paragraph cited and in the essay as a whole, as nothing more than a throw-away line. The sentence is nestled in that paragraph just firmly enough to be able to claim, if necessary: look, we’ve been saying all along that “we” cannot support legalized abortion or same-sex marriage. In other words, the sentence provides just enough “cover.”

But DO something as Christians to incarnate that Christian conviction?

Well, many of us would like to see the cash value. Do those underlined words really mean anything? May pastors and Christian citizens put legs and feet under those words, from the pulpit and beyond the church parking lot? Should they?

Oh, I know . . . there is a plethora of political options (“the Bible doesn’t tell us about policy details”) . . . and Christians will disagree among themselves (“you may not bind my conscience, so you’d better not proclaim anything concrete from the pulpit”). “We”—Joe and Jane Christian—need to hear what this “cannot support” looks like. Does it look at all like:

— participating as a Christian citizen in the March for Life in Washington?
— organizing a Christian foundation to fund and maintain shepherding homes for unwed mothers?
— self-identifying as a Christian citizen with a political party and a political candidate that defends the life of the unborn?
— volunteering as a Christian citizen at a crisis pregnancy center?
— supporting counseling services that compassionately assist people in “coming out” of their homosexual lifestyle?
— organizing as Christians to promote a referendum in defense of marriage?

Some versions of Christian liberty refuse to permit preachers to say anything concrete about what Christians should DO to show that “we” “cannot support the state’s refusal to protect innocent life.” And it sounds noble to thump loudly that we cannot “endorse the state’s moral affirmation of same-sex marriage.” But just try to insist, against some modern “two kingdom” advocates, that Christians should oppose the state’s moral affirmation of same-sex marriage, and you’ll be left . . . without legs and feet under that noble conviction.

Convictions without cash value?

Sounds just a tad like . . . faith without works. Visible good works. The kind that others may see and give glory to our Father in heaven.

Drew soccer

Grandson Andrew Hans Kloosterman moving the ball downfield.
Photo © Nelson D. Kloosterman

With this very helpful post, the discussion of “two kingdom theology” is surely being advanced!

Three notes for further reflection:

1. The term eschatology is not simply a “time word”—as in: something we wait for until after we die. As strange as it sounds, the Bible teaches us that the future is now already. For the Christian, the future drives and shapes the present. In the Bible, eschatology is always for ethics!

2. Based on this post, there seems to be a very close resemblance, if not identity, between this description of “two kingdoms theology” and the “already/not yet” distinction long employed within Reformed biblical studies—as in: “the kingdom of God is already present but not yet complete.” That’s been the diet for decades of students of Geerhardus Vos and  Herman Ridderbos and Richard Gaffin and George Eldon Ladd and Graeme Goldsworthy and . . . the list could go on and on. So then, what’s new?

3. Please munch on this sentence from the post: “Temporal actions are spiritual for Christians both because they point to the justice of the coming kingdom and because they carry with them eternal rewards.” The eternal rewards of faithfulness-in-history—now that deserves a book!

fruit-of-the-spiritWith the help of an analysis of the relevance of modern “two kingdom theology” to the issue of guns (available here), we are given further opportunity for reflecting on implications for whole life Christian obedience in the world.

As one of the essay’s conclusions, we are told that more artists and chefs, and fewer police officers and soldiers, are not necessarily indications of Christ’s kingdom having arrived.


Rather, it is claimed, “the signs of Christ’s kingdom are more ministers, more church members, more congregations . . ., and more fruit of the Spirit.”

Doubly agreed!

So then, let’s take a moment to review those “fruit of the Spirit.”

Set in opposition

The fruit of the Spirit are mentioned in Galatians 5.22-23, and set in direct opposition to the works of the flesh identified immediately before, in Galatians 5.19-21:

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (ESV).

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (ESV).


1. In the original, each of the two phrases, “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit,” involves a kind of (Greek, grammatical) genitival relationship. Daniel Wallace opts for a Genitive of Production/Producer (in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 106), which means that the flesh produces these works, whereas the Spirit produces this fruit.

2. The “works” (plural) of the flesh are set over against the “fruit” (singular) of the Spirit. The fact that the flesh produces a disparate plurality of something, whereas the Spirit produces an integrated unity of something, is instructive regarding the nature of sin and of grace. Sin disperses and dissolves, whereas grace integrates and unifies.

3. The Spirit-as-source of this fruit guarantees the uniqueness of these characteristic Christian moral responses. Precisely what constitutes that uniqueness need not occupy us here, since it can be argued that several of these “fruit” are identified with words common to moral discourse in the ancient world. Suffice to say, for the moment, that part of that Christian uniqueness can be described helpfully with the use of an analogy: as a magnet organizes and arranges iron filings in a certain way, so too the gospel organizes and arranges the “fruit”-responses of Christian living in a way uniquely suited to the gospel.

4. Those responses identified as “the fruit of the Spirit” are essentially and inherently public and social responses. In other words, there is no such thing as private, individualistic love, joy, peace, etc. No one denies this, I think.

The necessary implication

Now, it is true that (1) “the fruit of the Spirit” are among the signs of Christ’s kingdom. It is also true that (2) these fruit of the Spirit are characteristically Christian public and social responses to the gospel, responses belonging to Christian living in the world. It is also true that (3) such characteristically Christian responses bear witness in the world to the reality and power of Christ’s kingdom. Therefore, although the kingdom of Christ can be associated with and rooted in the institutional church, the reality and power of Christ’s kingdom cannot be restricted or limited to that expression known as the institutional church. This claim is the legitimate conclusion from the preceding argument involving the public and social nature of the fruit of the Spirit, which are among the signs of Christ’s kingdom.

So then, given both Galatians 5 and the rest of New Testament teaching about these “fruit of the Spirit,” it seems both impossible and implausible to restrict this sign of the kingdom to the institutional church and its activities of administering the means of grace.

More agreement and analysis

Perhaps these implications and their valid conclusion are so self-evident and agreeable that they need not have been explained. Perhaps.

That would be great, were that the case. Nonetheless, the essay linked above concludes with some sentences, quoted below, that provide a good opportunity for still more pointed reflection. We’ve added a number to each sentence for ease of reference:

[1] The church doesn’t need guns. [2] It enforces God’s law and proclaims the good news through spiritual means. [3] But until Christ’s return and the ultimate sorting out of the wheat and the tares, society will need guns. [4] Rules for owning, manufacturing, and selling guns will come not from God’s word (which is silent about such matters) but the shifting sands of human reflection.

To each of these sentences, given the preceding context and discussion of the entire essay, we’d have to reply with a “yes, but.”

Regarding [1]: yes, guns are not the church’s instrument of persuasion, but might be the church’s instrument of protection. For example, if today’s circumstances of endangered public gatherings might warrant guns as a precautionary safety measure, perhaps the elders may wish to ask someone patrolling the narthex or the parking lot to be unobtrusively armed.

Regarding [2]: yes, this is absolutely true. BUT God’s law-enforced-by-spiritual-means addresses issues like peace, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control with regard to activities done by Christians beyond the institutional church. Here is the repeated, simple, clear challenge to contemporary “two kingdom theology”: Is the preceding sentence true or false? Yes or no? Granting that Christians have messed up in enforcing God’s law, perhaps in a hundred different ways, the question remains: Does God’s law-enforced-by-spiritual-means address activities done by Christians beyond the institutional church?

Regarding [3]: yes, the claim is absolutely true that “until Christ returns, society will need guns.” BUT: even if you remove the name “Christ,” this is not merely a descriptive claim, but is a specifically biblical eschatological and moral claim. You cannot know this statement to be true apart from special revelation. The truthfulness of this claim cannot be argued validly from natural law. Of course, there are plenty of non-Christian philosophers and political theorists who make a similar claim. But that fact does not contradict the biblical origin or quality of the claim. Therefore, there exists a “biblical viewpoint” regarding “gun control.” See below.

Regarding [4]: yes, this is absolutely true. BUT: the claim that “until Christ returns, society will need guns” is necessarily a faith claim, available only via Scripture, and is therefore part of a Christian biblically-derived analysis of and response to arguments pertaining to “gun control.” How that gets implemented in terms of rules for owning, manufacturing, and selling guns will come from “the shifting sands” of historical development as well as human reflection.

Simply stated, the Bible teaches that (in one sense) the church doesn’t need guns, and that until Christ returns, society will need guns. And the Bible does not teach that the Glock 30SF ought to be outlawed. This example illustrates precisely how Scripture can “speak to all of life” without determining every precise detail of life.

And the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings consisting of great joy which shall be to all the people. Because born to you this day is a savior who is the anointed Lord in the city of David. And this is the sign for you: You shall find a baby snugly wrapped and lying in an animal’s feed box” (Luke 2:10-12; translation ours).

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

It is the redeeming contrast of Christmas that people find difficult to handle, if they see it. The contrast between who Jesus is and how He appeared in Bethlehem of Judea.

Heralded to watching shepherds by heaven’s angelic host, this baby is a savior who, finally, will deliver Israel from her sin and guilt. This savior has been anointed (christos) as Lord in David’s city, whereby God is fulfilling the promises He had made long ago to David’s house. This is who He is.

But how does He appear in Bethlehem?

To the shepherds was given the sign of Israel’s coming salvation from sin and guilt through this savior and this Lord in David’s line. “You shall find a baby snugly wrapped and lying in an animal’s feed box.” Put simply, His appearance clashes severely with His identity.

And that is both the redemption and the offense of Christmas.

For, you see, it is a sign of ordinariness and impoverishment. Like every baby, this Jesus is wrapped tightly, for warmth and security, in strips of cloth that serve as His receiving blanket. Likely because the place where Joseph and Mary had been living for some time now was overcrowded, the only place to lay this royal child was a feed box. That’s all they could afford, so poor they were.

Precisely in this contrast between the glory of this savior’s birth-announcement and the cold indigence of His birth lies the secret of Israel’s joy and ours. Because the fact that a baby thus heralded by angels lay in such impoverished circumstances is presented as the sign of His work as redeemer. Born a King, without a crown. Anointed a Lord, without subjects. Who ever heard of a savior from sin having a feed box as his crib? For His life’s work, He would earn His crown and gather His subjects, as He grew up, moving from His feed box to His cross. That work is our redemption!

Again, here is both the redemption and the offense: His feed box and His cross were, so to speak, made of the same wood!

During Jesus’ life, the Jewish leaders simply couldn’t put it together, His identity and His appearance. Among their favorite weapons was the genetic fallacy: “We know where this fellow grew up, his background and family pedigree. He cannot be the Son of God.” Their escalating unbelief drove them, finally, to remodel His crib into a cross, fit just for Him. The same wood, mind you, because it was the same redeeming, offensive contrast that joined Good Friday to Christmas! Jesus’ appearance and “background” simply didn’t match His claims.

So the meaning of the Christmas sign, given to the shepherds, proclaimed to us, is this: to understand our Savior’s crown, you must know His cross, following Him believingly along His costly route from Bethlehem to Calvary.

Are you satisfied with the redeeming contrast of Christmas between Jesus’ appearance and His identity? Are you satisfied enough not to soften the edges, not to air-brush the portrait of “baby Jesus” so He looks cute and cuddly enough for people without faith to like Him? Do you believe that your salvation rests squarely upon the fact that His ordinary birth in circumstances of stark poverty was truly and exactly like any other human birth?

If so, then move beyond the satisfaction born of faith, to rejoicing with the angels and the shepherds, with Mary and the wise men. For this savior is truly Israel’s only Savior from sin and guilt, and David’s Lord of glory and triumph. This Jesus is our Savior and Lord!

(This meditation appeared originally in the Mid-America Messenger, newsletter of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, Indiana)

H.H. Meeter ImageWe continue our discussion of the relevance of H. Henry Meeter’s classic work, The Basics of Calvinism, to contemporary discussions within the Reformed and Presbyterian world concerning the Bible, the church, and the world.

In chapter 10, “The Best Form of the State,” Meeter discusses the important matter of how Calvinism understands Christianity to relate to the state.

Can there be a Christian state?

This question, Meeter argues, cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” In fact, there are three ways in which the term “Christian” can be seen as relating to the state.

1. The first is what I would call the descriptive sense. In this sense, the state is not a Christian institution at all, Meeter argues, since it is “an institution of God’s common grace in this world by means of which God in his providence checks sin and promotes a moral world order” (pp. 85-86). As instituted by God around the world and in various cultures, the state as an institution is not a distinctly Christian formation. A state can function in Muslim countries, Buddhist countries, etc. In a descriptive sense, then, the state as an institution is not Christian.

2. The second sense I would call the normative sense. The state may be called Christian, “whenever a state is permeated with a Christian spirit and applies Christian principles in the administration of civic affairs” (p. 86). In this use, Meeter claims, “all states should be Christian, according to the conscience of the Calvinist, even though many states are not Christian. If God is the one great Sovereign of the world, then his Word should be law to the ends of the earth. . . . The Calvinist, whose fundamental principle maintains that God shall be Sovereign in all domains of life, is very insistent on having God recognized in the political realm also” (p. 86). Concretely, for the state to be guided by God’s Word, just as much as the church and the individual, means the following:

A state is Christian in this [normative] sense when, with God’s Word as its guide, its government maintains respect for authority, punishes evil according to divine ordinances, does not seek to disregard the guilt and responsibility of government officials or of its citizens, maintains the sanctity of marriage and the human family, guards the Sabbath, promotes philanthropy, honors the church and its mission in this world, and in similar ways reveals that it is permeated with the Christian spirit insofar as this relates to its own sphere of government (p. 86).

3. The third sense is what I would term the Christological sense, namely, “that Christ is recognized as the Ruler of the state just as he is of the church, so that all government officials are adjudged to be subject to his command” (p. 87). Among those who have maintained this view are the Arminians (this was an issue at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19), the Erastians, and occasionally, Roman Catholics. In this view, Christ is the Head of the state as well as Head of the church.

The “two kingdoms” theology of H. Henry Meeter

In response to the third sense, Meeter formulated a clear understanding of the rule of Jesus Christ in the world, which formulation is essentially an expression of a two kindgoms theology. Although the following citations are lengthy, careful reading of them will pay dividends for clear discussion and analysis.

Meeter explained several errors associated with claims made by Arminians, Erastians, and Roman Catholics. He concluded his analysis by explaining how Christ can have authority over all things, and yet be limited in the exercise of his Mediatorial, redemptive authority.

You will want to read this slowly:

The Bible indeed does state that Christ the Mediator has been given authority over all flesh, and all power in heaven and on earth. However, it does not thereby mean to suggest that Christ has authority over the state as its Ruler, as he is of the church. Christ is directly appointed Ruler over the church and over the kingdom of God. This rulership is given him as a reward for his mediatorial work. But this rulership lies in the sphere of special grace. As far as his redemptive work spreads its wings, he is Ruler and governs by his Word and by his Spirit. As Christ stated: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

But the state, which is, as we know it today, a creation of God’s common grace, does not come under the rulership of Christ as redeeming Mediator. A clue as to how he nevertheless can be said to have authority over all flesh is given us in Ephesians 1:22, where it is stated that God hath put all things under Christ’s feet, “and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” This prhase, “to the church,” suggests a very definite limitation of Christ’s authority over all things as Redeemer. As Ruler over the church and the kingdom of God, Christ must protect it and direct its destiny through a hostile world. To enable him to do this, he as the Redeemer must be given authority to control all things so that, no matter what these forces may choose to do, Christ has the authority and power from God to control their actions, restrain any possible evil, and direct all things for the benefit of his church and kingdom. . . . This authority, manifestly, is something very distinct from that asserted in the claim that Christ as Redeemer is administrative Ruler over the state as he is over the church. The state, which is a creation of God’s common grace, not of special grace, is, to be sure, subject to the Word of God as a rule of life. But it is not subject to Christ as the Mediator of redemption. In this last sense, therefore, the state cannot properly be designated as Christian (pp. 88-89).

Note the following:

1. Christ as Mediator possesses authority over all flesh.

2. Christ as redeeming Mediator is Ruler over the state in a way different than he is Ruler over the church.

3. The state is (to be) subject to the Word of God as a rule of life.

4. The state is not subject to Christ as the Mediator of redemption.

There are, indeed, remarkable similarities between Meeter’s formulations and distinctions, on the one hand, and some formulations and distinctions promoted by some of today’s “two kingdoms” advocates.  This is why we may speak of widespread agreement among these respective “sides” of the debate.

But there is one crucial and pivotal claim around which the entire discussion revolves. It is this: “The state is (to be) subject to the Word of God as a rule of life.” To put it another way: in Meeter’s view, the Bible is normative not only for the church and not only for Christians, but for the state as well.

By way of advance notice, next time we will hear Dr. Meeter unfold and develop this claim:

But since conscience itself is warped because of sin, and therefore no infallible guide, the state cannot progress properly unless the consciences of its governing officials in the administration of matters of state are guided by the principles of the Word of God. The Word of God, therefore, becomes the ultimate God-ordained standard whereby the will of God must be known, and by which the consciences of state officials, and of citizens as well, must be directed (p. 99).

Until next time.

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