Why I Do Not Join Popular Gospel-Only Organizations, Part One

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Most evangelicals think that The Gospel Coalition and comparable organizations exist exclusively for the proclamation, explanation, and defense of the gospel. These organizations present themselves as clarifying voices in an age when many evangelicals have embraced doctrines and practices that obscure or damage the gospel. To the extent that TGC and other organizations have devoted themselves to the defense of the gospel, they should be applauded by all gospel believers.

Organizations like The Gospel Coalition have been marked by broad fellowship within the bounds of the gospel. For example, its leaders include Baptists, Presbyterians, and even Anglicans, among others. Clearly one need not affirm a particular polity in order to identify with TGC.

The Gospel Coalition also displays considerable diversity on other theological issues. Leaders like C. J. Mahaney and John Piper affirm that at least some miraculous gifts are available today. In an interview with Eric Metaxas, Tim Keller said that he affirms a version of “progressive creationism” that is “not quite” theistic evolution. No one would argue that these divergences are merely incidental, but they are thought to be acceptable in a coalition that centers upon the gospel.

Nevertheless, a glance through The Gospel Coalition doctrinal statement indicates that, contrary to the popular perception, it is more than a gospel-only organization. Intentionally or not, its confessional statement effectively excludes many gospel believers. For example, article ten deals with the kingdom of God. Part of the statement reads,

The kingdom of God, already present but not fully realized, is the exercise of God’s sovereignty in the world toward the eventual redemption of all creation. The kingdom of God is an invasive power that plunders Satan’s dark kingdom and regenerates and renovates through repentance and faith the lives of individuals rescued from that kingdom. It therefore inevitably establishes a new community of human life together under God.

This is a very definite assertion of an inaugurated kingdom. Of course many gospel believers do affirm that the kingdom is “already and not yet.” Nevertheless, few if any traditional dispensationalists can accept this statement. They understand the kingdom to mean the millennial realm of Christ, which has certainly not been inaugurated. If The Gospel Coalition means what it says, then it excludes most traditional dispensationalists.

Furthermore, article nine states that, in the Holy Spirit, believers “are baptized into union with the Lord Jesus, such that they are justified before God by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.” In other words, justification is the result of Spirit baptism and the believer’s consequent union with Christ. Again, traditional dispensationalists see it differently. They certainly agree that all saints of all ages are justified by grace through faith. They also affirm that justification is possible only on the ground that God once imputed the guilt of sin to Christ and judged it in Him, while He imputes Christ’s righteousness to believers. Traditional dispensationalists, however, insist that Spirit baptism and union with Christ is restricted to believers during the church age. As The Gospel Coalition formulates its confession, it either requires Old Testament saints to be Spirit baptized, or else leaves them unjustified. Either way, dispensationalists are unlikely to jump on the bandwagon.

The point here is not that dispensationalists are correct and The Gospel Coalition is wrong. The point is that TGC has gone considerably beyond the gospel in its doctrinal formulas. It ends up excluding some very committed gospel believers. In other words, it is really The “Gospel-Plus-Other-Stuff” Coalition.

Article nine also includes a very specific formulation about Spirit baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13. This work is described specifically as baptism in the Spirit rather than baptism by the Spirit. In fact, the original wording of the statement was altered to reflect this language. The problem is that some still think that en pneumati is best translated by the Spirit all the way through 1 Corinthians 12. They may be wrong, but the gospel is hardly at stake in this distinction. Why should some brothers be barred from fellowship for such a minor point of theology?

The Gospel Coalition is clearly aiming for a fellowship that is narrower than the gospel. That much is evident even from its formal confessional statement. In its practice, TGC seems to draw the circle even smaller. A glance at the council members who lead the coalition is revealing. I admit that I do not know every person on the council, but of those I do know, none appears to be an Arminian. All affirm a fairly strong version of Lordship Salvation. None definitely holds (for example) a Chaferian or Wesleyan rather than a Reformed understanding of sanctification.

The Gospel Coalition is very broad in some ways, but exceptionally narrow in others. If one assumes that the basis of fellowship in TGC is the gospel alone (an assumption that the organization’s name fosters), then one will find this mixture of diversity and specificity to be perplexing at least. Evidently, the founders of TGC must have had some theological construct in mind from the very beginning. People like John Piper and C. J. Mahaney fit this construct. People like Charles Ryrie, Norm Geisler, or Charlie Bing did not. These teachers might be mistaken on certain subjects, but does anybody seriously believe that they deny the gospel?

TGC includes some kinds of charismatics, but it effectively excludes traditional dispensationalists. It includes old-earth progressive creationists, but it effectively excludes non-Calvinists and (evidently) even moderate Calvinists who might dispute a strongly-worded version of Lordship Salvation. Apparently, TGC is committed not simply to the gospel, but to a much more specific theological system.

For these reasons, I find it impossible to align with the ministry and vision of The Gospel Coalition. TGC has denied me that opportunity. I have not erected barriers or separated from TGC, for the simple reason that you cannot separate from someone who has already separated from you. The Gospel Coalition itself has erected the barriers. It has applied a detailed version of secondary separation toward those who do not affirm a specific theological position.

That is my first reason for not joining popular gospel-only organizations. But wait. There’s more.

Wrestling Jacob
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)

COME, O Thou Traveller unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see,
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee.
With Thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.

I need not tell Thee who I am,
My misery, or sin declare,
Thyself hast call’d me by my name,
Look on thy hands, and read it there,
But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?
Tell me thy name, and tell me now.

In vain Thou strugglest to get free,
I never will unloose my hold:
Art Thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of thy love unfold;
Wrestling I will not let Thee go,
Till I thy name, thy nature know.

‘Tis all in vain to hold thy tongue,
Or touch the hollow of my thigh:
Though every sinew be unstrung,
Out of my arms Thou shalt not fly;
Wrestling I will not let Thee go,
Till I thy name, thy nature know.

My strength is gone, my nature dies,
I sink beneath thy weighty hand,
Faint to revive, and fall to rise;
I fall, and yet by faith I stand,
I stand, and will not let Thee go,
Till I thy name, thy nature know.

Yield to me now—for I am weak;
But confident in self-despair:
Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,
Be conquer’d by my instant prayer,
Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me, if thy name is LOVE.

‘Tis Love, ‘tis Love! Thou diedst for me,
I hear thy whisper in my heart.
The morning breaks, the shadows flee:
Pure UNIVERSAL LOVE Thou art,
To me, to all, thy bowels move,
Thy nature, and thy name is LOVE.

Contented now upon my thigh
I halt, till life’s short journey end;
All helplessness, all weakness I,
On Thee alone for strength depend,
Nor have I power, from Thee, to move;
Thy nature, and thy name is LOVE.

Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin with ease o’ercome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Thro’ all eternity to prove
Thy nature, and thy name is LOVE.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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There are 17 Comments

JobK's picture

Inaugurated eschatology need not be associated with amillennialism. Instead, it only requires believing that the spiritual kingdom of heaven, of Jesus Christ, began with the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, first with His apostles and other true disciples and then the church after His death and resurrection. So, limiting it to the millennial realm of Christ has real problems, chiefly the words of Jesus Christ Himself.

In Matthew 3:2, Jesus Christ said "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Why would Christ have said that were it not actually true to the people that He was preaching to in that day and time? How could "at hand" be a reference to a millennial kingdom that was thousands of years in the future, and what would their repentance have to do with such a kingdom that they would never live to see? The same with the Beatitudes: blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Sure, if you're around during the millennial kingdom. But its relevance to the people that Christ was actually preaching to - and the many Christians that have come after - was what, exactly? Whoever should break these commandments shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven but whoever keeps them shall be called great (Matthew 5:19), your righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees to enter the Kingdom (Matthew 5:20), he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11), and "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matthew 11:12). There is also Jesus Christ telling Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, and also Mark 9:1's "And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." So if it has certainly not yet been inaugurated, how can the teachings of Jesus Christ i.e. the parables, the sermon on the mount etc. and the other statements concerning the kingdom of heaven be true? 

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Joel Tetreau's picture

Kevin,

While I've appreciated some of the work of the GC from a distance, I've never been a part of it's meetings. Thus far my only interaction with conservative evangelicals has been with men associated with the Shepherd's Conference. That being said, after reading various articles by men associated with the GC - I would be more than surprised if the GC would ban a brother from fellowship with them simply because of the theological implications you note. A few quick thoughts:

1) Very few dispensationalists that I know of (still living) would say that in no way, shape or form is the Kingdom of God here.

2) I'm fairly sure most would say to some degree the Kingdom of God in the macro sense of the word is here - but in the meditorial sense will not be fulfilled until Jesus rules and reigns from His thrown in Jerusalem.

3) While it's true the GC is probably more "reformed" than "dispensational" I would again be surprised if they stiff-arm men who believed only NT saints are "united with Christ" from their fellowship....as long as the dispensational brother in question believed that OT saints were also saved by faith alone. I'm pretty sure the GC would be fine with my view of dispensational soteriology. I've always believed OT saints were both regenerated and indwelt.  

4) What is interesting to me is that there seems to be a great similarity between the "ethos" of the GC and that of the earliest gatherings of the first generation of fundamentalism. If I remember correctly you had a similar kind of diversity while agreeing on the key fundamentals of the faith. I'd be surprised if the GC would add "theologically" to the sina-qua-non of orthodoxy, especially for purposes of koinonia.

5) Still I appreciate theological precision and so if the implications of the GC stated views you note here in fact do shove good men who are more classically dispensational outside of the GC tent, and if the brothers at GC care about that.....then your thoughts here are beneficial. What I'm taking away from your article is that if the GC is really only about Gospel unity and if the implications of their doctrinal statement push certain believers away, then there is an inconsistency at some level. Good catch!

6) My guess is the issues keeping dispensational men from groups like GC most often lie in an unwillingness by the dispensational guys to go to GC than the GC guys from receiving dispensational men. As a matter of fact I'd almost be willing to bet my you that the guys at GC would be far more gracious towards the disagreements here than the dispensational men would be......said by a guy who is far more dispensational in hermeneutics than reformed.

Straight Ahead!

jt

 

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Ed Vasicek's picture

JobK wrote:

Inaugurated eschatology need not be associated with amillennialism. Instead, it only requires believing that the spiritual kingdom of heaven, of Jesus Christ, began with the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, first with His apostles and other true disciples and then the church after His death and resurrection. So, limiting it to the millennial realm of Christ has real problems, chiefly the words of Jesus Christ Himself.

In Matthew 3:2, Jesus Christ said "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Why would Christ have said that were it not actually true to the people that He was preaching to in that day and time? How could "at hand" be a reference to a millennial kingdom that was thousands of years in the future, and what would their repentance have to do with such a kingdom that they would never live to see? The same with the Beatitudes: blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Sure, if you're around during the millennial kingdom. But its relevance to the people that Christ was actually preaching to - and the many Christians that have come after - was what, exactly? Whoever should break these commandments shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven but whoever keeps them shall be called great (Matthew 5:19), your righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees to enter the Kingdom (Matthew 5:20), he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11), and "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matthew 11:12). There is also Jesus Christ telling Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, and also Mark 9:1's "And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." So if it has certainly not yet been inaugurated, how can the teachings of Jesus Christ i.e. the parables, the sermon on the mount etc. and the other statements concerning the kingdom of heaven be true? 

 

You miss the point.  This is not a Gospel matter.  The point is the Gospel coalition is not firm and permissive in a reasonable way.  In essence, it considers dispensational viewpoints unacceptable for participation but looks the other way in matters like theistic evolution.  If it is a Reformed, then it should not veil its bias behind the word "Gospel."  Some might argue that this is deceptive.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

My guess is the issues keeping dispensational men from groups like GC most often lie in an unwillingness by the dispensational guys to go to GC than the GC guys from receiving dispensational men. As a matter of fact I'd almost be willing to bet my you that the guys at GC would be far more gracious towards the disagreements here than the dispensational men would be......said by a guy who is far more dispensational in hermeneutics than reformed.

Joel, I completely totally and fully disagree with you.  If you hang around type "A's," you might have a point.  But in my experience, this is a disproportionate (dare I say it?) contempt and snobbery toward dispensational viewpoints.  Have you read Os Guiness' book, "Fit Bodies, Fat Minds?"  In it, he presents what is often more subtle elsewhere: one is labeled a non-intellectual idiot for being dispensational.

This contempt is not imagined.  Don't know how you can miss it?

Also, the early fundamentalists were very accepting of Arminians.  True, they tolerated all sorts of views on creation, but they were much broader than the Gospel coaltion. Why are they even getting into Spirit baptism?

"The Midrash Detective"

JobK's picture

Which is that belief in inaugurated eschatology does not preclude dispensationalism. Their doctrinal statement will exclude some dispensationalists but not all of them, or for that matter even most of them. Oh, how many times upon times have I heard dispensational preachers from many denominations and other various stripes state flat out that you enter the kingdom of heaven or become a citizen in the kingdom of heaven upon reciting the salvation prayer, for example. If there is a problem, it is not with their mild, very much in the evangelical mainstream inaugurated eschatology doctrinal statement, but their allowing theistic evolutionists like Tim Keller to participate. I say keep their inaugurated eschatology statement (for the benefit of those of us who actually apply the Sermon on the Mount, the parables and other teachings of Jesus Christ to ourselves living here and now), kick those who do not believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2 out, and problem solved.  

"If it is a Reformed, then it should not veil its bias behind the word "Gospel."  Some might argue that this is deceptive."

Well if that is the real issue, then why even talk about dispensationalism? There are more than a few dispensationalists among the Reformed, and there even more non-Reformed who are not dispensational. But even if you are correct, the idea that Reformed people should refrain from using "gospel" to identify themselves is difficult to fathom. Are non-Reformed groups going to also not identify with gospel? Would that be "deceptive" also?

Incidentally, I am not being an apologist for the Gospel Coalition here. It is an organization that I would never join. Instead, I was merely initially bemused at the suggestion that "now and not yet" precludes dispensationalists (when pretty much every dispensational that I have ever known about preaches that doctrine) and then the claim that a Reformed group shouldn't use the term "gospel" to identify itself to be even more problematic. 

 

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Joel Tetreau's picture

Ed,

Hey - because of my limited direct contact with the GC, I might have to concede and conclude you are right. While I didn't think I was wrong on this - perhaps I am. And if that be the case it's good to know it. I know I've seen the kind of "snobbery" you are talking about towards dispensationalism here and there, but I did not realize it is/was as thick as you say. In my limited contact I find most evangelical men who are not dispensational at least willing to accept brothers even though they might not be as.

Thanks for the push back - helpful.

Joel

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

RDSpringer's picture

Quite frankly, I do not understand the need of a group such as TGC.
One of their stated purposes is:
“TGC exists, at least in part, to create and to foster a network of Christians (and a network of networks of Christians) who are committed to the gospel and are committed to working with other believers to further the gospel.”
But isn’t that the purpose that Jesus gave to the church that He built? Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8
“The Gospel Coalition is the brainchild of D.A. Carson and Tim Keller and they continue to lead it. Beyond these men exists a Council of approximately fifty members who provide leadership, guidance and oversight. These Council members, all men and mostly pastors, are diverse theologically (within the theological foundation of TGC) and racially.”
Diverse theologically? 
They say that:
“ Their documents are very consistent with the theology of the Reformation. They are distinctly Calvinistic when it comes to salvation and broad when it comes to secondary issues such as baptism and the end times.”
They also say:
“And in this case we will find that The Gospel Coalition is not a church and that it is not a denomination. It seeks to support both churches and denominations but to exist separately from them. It is wider than denominations even while acknowledging that denominations must continue to exist. It seeks to support the local church without replacing it.”
But then they go on to say:
“Through networking, both online and offline, TGC hopes to find pockets of Christians who are committed to the gospel and to bring them together for that gospel, for missions, to change lives. Though such networking can happen through traditional means and undoubtedly will continue to happen through traditional means, TGC has launched a social media site, The Gospel Coalition Network, that they hope will serve as a means of bringing Christians together based on geography and common interest.”
I don’t quite know what to make of this – when Jesus built and tasked His church, did He not also equip it with all of the necessary essentials to carry out that task? To me, groups like this make it appear that there are deficiencies in the church that require the creation of other organizations to help “support” local churches to overcome those deficiencies.
But then, what do I know!
 

MShep2's picture

Thanks, Kevin. A well-researched and written article.

MS
--------------------------------
Luke 17:10

dbecklund's picture

Another side of this issue is to look at both theology and methodology. We have certainly laid out our theological differences and perhaps even incompatibility but the networking purpose statements in these collateral organizations fill a definite need for those who choose to affiliate with them. Perhaps we should identify them as networks. The concept of networking has its roots in both computers and business management/leadership (and marketing) that suggests there is significant value to sharing ideas, collaboration, research and interpersonal relationships. During the early years of SI, the term networking was often used to describe a primary focus of establishing communications, discussing differences and a continuing education resource within Fundamentalism (see Joel T's ABCD fundamentalist classes). Diversity was considered an asset and not a liability within the confines of the SI doctrinal statement. The opportunity for blogging, article publication, limited joint-projects was an exciting idea in those early days.

TCG and similar organizations use the idea of networking to fill some important needs in the lives of pastors, students, and wannabes to share ideas, concepts, conferences, archives and establish relationships. Unlike SI, this networking is more methodological than theological by choice. The previous question regarding why do we need TGC outside the local church structure could be ask of SI. Networks and networking are important, if not critical, today and can make a significant contribution to the successfulness of a ministry. These methodological benefits are couched within a theological context that tends to be our primary filter for determining the usefulness of networks. Kevin's excellent article spells out some reasons for not joining the Gospel-type networks with good cause. Unfortunately, we have not develop a methodological equivalent to these networks (SI excepted) to meet some of our needs to share and improve our successes. Before you start throwing rocks at me over this post, think for a minute about the differences between theology and methodology. Both are important.

 

 

handerson's picture

The Gospel Coalition is very broad in some ways, but exceptionally narrow in others.

Completely agree. But isn't this precisely the nature of any organizational structure? The same could be said for any number of fundamentalist groups and associations. Not trying to challenge your observation, just wondering about it's significance as it doesn't seem a characteristic exclusive to TGC.

Also, by way of note, I was first taught a similar understanding of the "kingdom"  by Mark Minnick as an undergrad attending his church in Greenville, SC. 

RDSpringer's picture

Perhaps I misunderstood, but if our Biblical Theology does not drive our Biblical Methodology then what does drive our methodology?

"To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord."

 

btwdik

Ed Vasicek's picture

I think the Gospel coalition has a right to exist, and I think it has a lot of positive points.  People like D.A. Carson are amazing; he is undoubtedly the prince of conservative scholars.

I myself am NOT a traditional dispensationalist, but a progressive dispensationalist.  I believe that, in a sense, the Kingdom is here (and, in another sense, always has been).  An upcoming article on Palm Sunday elaborates my perspective on the Kingdom.

Where I agree with Bauder is that traditional dispensationalists are not welcome, and I have seen this confirmed within other Reformed-types.  The Gospel Coalition does not specifically target against dispensationalists, but there is a deep prejudice and dismissal NOT OF PREMILLENNIALISTS but of DISPENSATIONAL premilllennialists in the broader revived Reform movement at large.  I think Bauder has simply demonstrated how imbedded and almost subconscious this is. 

I have no trouble with the term "Gospel Coalition," but to suggest that they are united around the Gospel is simply not true.  They are a group of diverse believers with Reformed beliefs uniting for the Gospel. And that is fine if they are upfront about it.

There is a lot of "persuasion by assumption" in the Christian world, and a lot of snobbery. I have been guilty of it myself, I am sad to admit.  The book, "Accidental Pharisee" tells it like it is (I saw the review here on SI and immediately bought and read it).  We have a technique in the Christian world in which we try to get people to our viewpoint by "assuming" a position, perhaps within a doctrinal statement.

 

JobK, I do not disagree with you about the Kingdom, but Bauder is completely right that many do. That is his point.  You need to believe  that they do believe this way, absurd or not.,  They are not heretics because of it, and their belief does not influence the Gospel.  But this is the point: to many in this coalition, the Gospel is a code word for their entire perspective, not just the message of salvation.  Kind of like the Jews: when they study anything theological -- the prophets, the Talmud, ethics, etc., they say they are studying "Torah." To us, "Torah" means only the five books of Moses.  The real crime, IMO, is confiscating the Biblical term "Gospel" and turning it into about everything.  It is of the same ilk as transforming the term "music" to "worship."  It takes and narrow term and makes it a broad one.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

handerson's picture

They are a group of diverse believers with Reformed beliefs uniting for the Gospel. And that is fine if they are upfront about it.

This is it in a nutshell. They are uniting for Gospel proclamation, not uniting around the most basic tenants of the Gospel. The name is a bit problematic in this sense, but I think it's more problematic to actually believe that any human organization could be devoid of specific emphases. TGC is what it is, and anyone who interacts with it will quickly recognize that it has as many shibboleths as in any other affiliation. But like Ed said, we must all fight the pride and snobbery that naturally happens as we coalesce around theological distinctives. The problem comes when we assume that we don't have them.

 

 

Don Johnson's picture

Not tenants!

 

from your friendly malaprop policeman (self-appointed)

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

handerson's picture

otherwise, we'd have more serious issues to discuss than the nature of TGC. Smile

edingess's picture

The presence of parachurch organizations is especially problematic for the church. The main reason seems to be their disconnection from any governing Church body. The tendency toward autonomous behavior in terms of confession, membership, and theological standards is, in my opinion, inconsistent with the biblical model. Tim Keller's view ought to be a matter for church discipline. Yet, heavily influenced by American culture, the PCA does nothing, nor does TGC. While I see the numerous problems of the RCC's interpretive paradigm, our own seems to have an equal amount, different though they may be, yet serious nonetheless.  Men need to recognize that just because we are not Rome, that does not mean we are free to just handle the text it whatever manner we please. There should be a standard to which these scholars are held so that when they begin to manipulate the standard, for whatever reason, they can be corrected and strengthened in the faith and if they refuse, they can be released so as not to bring harm to others in the Society of Christ, His Church.

 

Just my opinion. Weary of the lack of submission I see in ministry these days.

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. III John 4

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