Fundamentalism: Whence? Where? Whither? Part 1

NickOfTime

Things Have Changed

The last sustained history of fundamentalism to be published by a fundamentalist was David Beale's In Pursuit of Purity1. Nearly a generation has passed since Beale finished writing his book. During that time the landscape of fundamentalism has altered significantly.

The period when Beale was writing was a time of intense struggle within fundamentalism. Segments of the movement were denouncing other segments as "neo" this or "pseudo" that. One wing of fundamentalism (led by Jerry Falwell, Ed Dobson, Ed Hindson, and Jack Van Impe) was attempting to forge links with mainstream evangelicalism. From the opposite wing, Bob Jones Jr. was attacking John MacArthur’s views on the blood of Christ and declaring that "MacArthur’s position is heresy."2 The King James Only movement, pioneered by David Otis Fuller and D. A. Waite, was in its infancy, barely a cloud the size of a man’s hand.

Many of the events that define present-day fundamentalism were yet future. Robert Sumner had not yet published his exposé of Jack Hyles's (alleged) affair, and Hyles himself was regarded as a prominent leader within mainstream fundamentalism. Cornerstone College was still Grand Rapids Baptist College, an approved agency of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, and the GARBC was still approving agencies. Bob Jones University, smarting from its recent rebuff by the United States Supreme Court, continued to defend its ban on interracial dating and marriage as "based on its understanding of the Bible."3 Perhaps most significantly, the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention was still in its infancy. Conservatives controlled no Southern Baptist institutions yet, and most fundamentalists doubted that they ever would.

In 1986, neither Dave Doran nor Tim Jordan held the pastorates that have come to be associated with their names. Dan Davey and Mark Minnick were associate pastors in Virginia Beach and Greenville, respectively. Matt Olson was just a few years into the planting of Tri-City Baptist Church near Denver. John Hartog III was a college student, and Stephen Jones was still in high school.

Certain figures within fundamentalism had become gray eminences.4 An inquisitive student could still hold a conversation with B. Myron Cedarholm, Bob Jones Jr., Richard V. Clearwaters, Joseph Stowell II, Monroe Parker, Arno Weniger, Sr., David Otis Fuller, W. E. Dowell, Sr., Carl McIntire, or Victor Sears. Though mostly retired, these leaders still cast a long shadow over the institutions that they had shaped.

In 1986, clear fissures were already evident within the fundamentalist movement. One version of fundamentalism could be found in the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, which was led by men like Rod Bell, Don Jasmin, Ed Nelson, Marion Fast, Chester McCullough, James Singleton, and Frank Bumpus. Close kin to the FBF was the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches, led by Virgil Arrowood, Richard Weeks, Clark Poorman, and Earl E. Matteson. The General Association of Regular Baptist Churches represented a different version of fundamentalism, but it was in the middle of a controversy. The leaders who eventually carried the day included Paul Tassell, Wendell Kempton, Dan Gellatt, and Paul Dixon, while Ernest Pickering, Ralph Colas, L. Duane Brown, and Richard Harris were key figures on the losing side. A third version of fundamentalism was evident in the Baptist Bible Fellowship, the World Baptist Fellowship, Independent Baptist Fellowship International, and the Southwide Baptist Fellowship. Significant names in those movements included John W. Rawlings, Jack Hyles, Raymond Barber, Lee Roberson, Bob Gray, Al Janney, Wally Beebe, E. L. Bynum, Gary Coleman, A. V. Henderson, Curtis Hutson, and Jerry Falwell.

Further divisions could be found in inter-, non-, and multi-denominational fundamentalism. The Independent Fundamental Churches of America bridged the gap between fundamentalism and moderate evangelicalism. A breakaway group, the Ohio Bible Fellowship, positioned itself on the opposite end of fundamentalism and looked primarily to Bob Jones University for influence. The International Council of Christian Churches was characterized mainly by its loyalty to Carl McIntire, while the American Council of Christian Churches was still seeking an identity after breaking with him. The World Congress of Fundamentalists, under the effective leadership of Bob Jones Jr. and Bob Jones III, was beginning to pick up significant influence.

Things have changed for fundamentalism. Indeed, they still are. Rapidly. For a generation there has been no comprehensive attempt to summarize the changes and directions within fundamentalism, to link them to the past, and to draw out the trajectories along which they may carry fundamentalist churches and institutions in the future. A genuine need exists for an overview of fundamentalism that will link its present problems to the choices of the past and will seek to understand those problems in terms of the choices that they present for the future.

The task will require careful research and sustained argument. At the moment, no one is stepping forward who has the skills, the resources, and especially the interest to pursue the project. Therefore, something else must be done.

A series of popular essays will not meet that need, but it will provide an opportunity to retell the story of fundamentalism. This short retelling will serve three purposes. First, it will present a history of fundamentalism that reflects the awareness of a fundamentalist. Second, it will offer the opportunity to fill in a generation of history which has gone largely unwritten. Third, it is an occasion for critical self-examination and evaluation of both the strengths and weaknesses of fundamentalism from a fundamentalist point of view.

Beginning with the present essay, I plan to tell that story. This series of essays will be rather lengthy. For that reason, I will make no attempt to maintain week-by-week rigor in offering the subsequent essays. Other topics will intrude here and there. Nevertheless, In the Nick of Time will return to these essays until the story has been told.

I wish to make two points especially clear from the very beginning. First, I intend to write neither propaganda nor polemic. These essays will neither defend nor denounce fundamentalism. I am saying this now because there will be times when some readers will be sure that I am doing one or the other. On the contrary, what I want to do is to tell the truth, whether or not it flatters those who wear the label (including me).

Second, I do not intend to try to persuade anyone--least of all young leaders--that they must remain in the fundamentalist movement. I love the idea of fundamentalism, and I would like to persuade people of its beauty and utility. The fundamentalist movement, however, is at best an imperfect embodiment of the idea. Those who can find a better incarnation of the idea ought to pursue it. Ideas ought to command our allegiance, not party or institutional loyalties.

Having said that, one underlying thesis of this series is that the fundamentalist movement no longer exists. The unraveling of the movement began in the 1960s and has continued virtually without interruption. At the present, little coherence remains among self-identified fundamentalists. The result is that no one can choose to be a fundamentalist simpliciter. In order to be a fundamentalist at all, one must choose among fundamentalist influences and institutions. The inevitable result is that all contemporary fundamentalists are modified fundamentalists, in the sense that they all require some modifier or qualifier to be attached to the name.

Before proceeding, expressions of gratitude are in order. Certain individuals shaped my vision of fundamentalism in powerful ways. George Houghton gave me my first lessons as a student of fundamentalism, and to his analysis I remain deeply indebted. David Nettleton showed me that a fundamentalist could be both cultured and compassionate--and, more importantly, could lead as a statesman rather than a politician. Robert Delnay demonstrated that a fundamentalist could exhibit both broad learning and deep piety. William Fusco exhibited a version of fundamentalist leadership that was wrapped in gentleness and love. Myron Houghton modeled a fundamentalism that was devoted to the life of the mind. Needless to say, these people are not liable for the faults of this project, but without their perspectives I would be unable to pursue it.

1David O. Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 (Greenville, S.C.: BJU Press, 1986).

2Bob Jones, "Observations: News of Interest to Christians," in Faith for the Family (April 1986), 29.

3The Bomb and Its Fallout: Bob Jones University v. United States (Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University, 1983), 3.

4This expression comes from Robert Delnay.

To the Rev. Dr. Thomas Amory on Reading His Sermons on Daily Devotion, in which that Duty is Recommended and Assisted

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

To cultivate in ev'ry noble mind
Habitual grace, and sentiments refin'd,
Thus while you strive to mend the human heart,
Thus while the heav'nly precepts you impart,
O may each bosom catch the sacred fire,
And youthful minds to Virtue's throne aspire!

When God's eternal ways you set in sight,
And Virtue shines in all her native light,
In vain would Vice her works in night conceal,
For Wisdom’s eye pervades the sable veil.

Artists may paint the sun's effulgent rays,
But Amory's pen the brighter God displays:
While his great works in Amory's pages shine,
And while he proves his essence all divine,
The Atheist sure no more can boast aloud
Of chance, or nature, and exclude the God;
As if the clay without the potter's aid
Should rise in various forms, and shapes self-made,
Or worlds above with orb o'er orb profound
Self-mov'd could run the everlasting round.
It cannot be--unerring Wisdom guides
With eye propitious, and o'er all presides.

Still prosper, Amory! still may'st thou receive
The warmest blessings which a muse can give,
And when this transitory state is o'er,
When kingdoms fall, and fleeting Fame’s no more,
May Amory triumph in immortal fame,
A nobler title, and superior name!


This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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There are 15 Comments

mmarprelate's picture

I fully agree, Dr. Bauder, please continue with the series. I believe it will be extremely useful. It is urgent we begin to define a successor to Fundamentalism that is Biblicist, inclusive of Biblicists, lovingly tolerant of differences of opinion within Biblicism, aggressively evangelistic, and still fiercely militant in defense of the faith. We probably need to discard the label "fundamentalist" which has served its purpose, but no longer conveys what we desire.

Rather than combatively skewering believers to the left and right of us, we need to patiently and lovingly teach them how to study the Scriptures and draw conclusions expositionally and contextually. We need to view separation as a tool to preserve the purity of Christ's church, rather than a weapon to destroy those who have offended our sense of correctness. We need to struggle to avoid traditionalism while embracing our heritage. We need to avoid accommodating the insidious and subtle errors of modern scholarship, while excelling in our knowledge of Scripture and in the use of the tools of scholarship.

Our goal should be to make the Christian perfect, adequately equipped for good works.

MM

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

This is needed and I can't think of a better man than Dr. Bauder to take on this task. These articles may stir up as great or greater interest than the young fundamentalist survey did a few years ago.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Aw, man, why did you have to stop there! I await Dr. Bauder's next installment with interest! Can't wait!

"The Midrash Detective"

Paul Matzko's picture

Thanks for undertaking a worthwhile project. I am heartened by your evident desire to avoid simplistic, Whiggish hagiographies. Don't be afraid of making clear your point of view however. Objectivity is an illusion in history (though still an admirable ideal). You will be revealing your ideological biases simply by choosing which events and personages to make salient and which are to remain silent.

Mike Durning's picture

[quote=Paul Matzko ]Thanks for undertaking a worthwhile project. I am heartened by your evident desire to avoid simplistic, Whiggish hagiographies. [quote]

Paul,

Indeed, it would be difficult to write a whiggish hagiography for an enterprise that has failed. But in a larger sense, doesn't the nature of God's foreknowledge and plan mean that a whiggish hagiography would best describe where it all ends up? Wink

Mike D

Joseph's picture

This will be a valuable series that I look forward to reading.

It seems that Bauder is qualified to write the more careful, academic study that he and others wish for. It would be a great thing if Bauder published more because his writings are the kinds of writing I would like to refer to when talking about Fundamentalism to outsiders; it would be especially nice if he wrote a book on the past few decades, drawing together his work on the idea of Fundamentalism, Fundamentalism and scholarship, and a host of topics on which he has written.

Machen and others were not so distanced from the world that they could not or did not publish with good presses that had a wide readership; it would be a good for everyone if someone like Bauder was published by a press that at least evangelicals would read. A history from his perspective would be invaluable to any good historian or opened minded inquirer.

Here's to hoping.

Paul Matzko's picture

Mike Durning ][quote=Paul Matzko ]Thanks for undertaking a worthwhile project. I am heartened by your evident desire to avoid simplistic, Whiggish hagiographies. [quote wrote:

Paul,

Indeed, it would be difficult to write a whiggish hagiography for an enterprise that has failed. But in a larger sense, doesn't the nature of God's foreknowledge and plan mean that a whiggish hagiography would best describe where it all ends up? Wink

Mike D

Mike, I don't think I'd conflate Fundamentalism with the future Kingdom of God. (-:

You are hinting at a broader, serious question that I have attempted to engage as a historian: What is a Christian's philosophy of history? If you are interested in my attempts to answer that question check out religioninamerica.org .

http://religioninamerica.org/2009/07/17/pauls-philosophy-of-history-part...
http://religioninamerica.org/2009/07/19/pauls-philosophy-of-history-part...

Mike Durning's picture

Paul Matzko wrote:
Mike, I don't think I'd conflate Fundamentalism with the future Kingdom of God. (-:

I wouldn't either. But I've heard a few sermons that led me to believe that some thought they were contiguous. I'm sure the current state of the Movement has them horrified.

One must be almost obtuse to the real flow of history to believe a movement stands alone as the repository of all truth and hope for all ages. Dr. Bauder says it right -- there is an underlying idea in Fundamentalism that has value. The movement itself, however, is just a reaction to the circumstances in which men of God found themselves in the early 1900's. Of course it's dying. The circumstances have changed. Applying that seed-idea of Fundamentalism and other important ideas to the new situation is the task for the "Movement That Will Come" [spoken in echoing, prophetic-sounding voice ].

The task for the much ballyhooed Young Fundamentalists will be to hold on to that which is Scriptural and apply it to new situations, to jettison that which is unscriptural in the movement, and to carefully examine that which is ascriptural in the movement to see if it has any value. No pendulum swing, knee-jerk reaction will do that job adequately.

"New occasions teach new duties; Ancient values test our youth." -- James Russel Lowell.

A few of us are working on a website where some articles can be posted that address this exactly. Should be up soon.

Paul Matzko wrote:
You are hinting at a broader, serious question that I have attempted to engage as a historian: What is a Christian's philosophy of history? If you are interested in my attempts to answer that question check out religioninamerica.org .

http://religioninamerica.org/2009/07/17/pauls-philosophy-of-history-part...
http://religioninamerica.org/2009/07/19/pauls-philosophy-of-history-part...

Thanks for the links. I will take a look at them tonight.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm also looking forward to Dr.Bauder's history.
I am not, however, among those who believe the movement is or ought to be "dead." But we may just be splitting semantic hairs.

To me, the real core of the "movement" was always about two things...
1) Defending the Scriptures
2) The purity of the church
The two go hand in hand, of course.

So, has the need for defending the Scriptures or fighting for a pure church passed? Has it abated even a little? I don't see how we could say yes to either.
So, yes, times have changed, the problems are dressed in new clothes, but they are the same problems and those who love the Scriptures need to work together to handle them. That's what fundamentalism was... and whatever continues those battles will still be fundamentalism, though--like the problems it addresses--it may also be dressed in new clothes (and, sure, the term "fundamentalist" has long only worked when talking to other fundamentalists... on that point, we could all call ourselves Klingons and it wouldn't really matter much).

Maybe "new clothes" is understatement. There are no longer any large mainline denominations falling slowly to Modernism. There are, however, large groups of less easily identified believers falling to equally damaging notions about truth and Scripture. So... maybe new clothes + cosmetic surgery.

Edit: maybe "less organically connected" would be better than "less easily identified." What I'm trying to say is that the "groups" being infected with unbelief today are not so visible. They are not grouped formally under institutional labels. What links them into a "group" is more complicated.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Joseph's picture

Aaron,

To frame the issue in such general terms is to undercut and thereby ignore the historical particularity of Fundamentalism, precisely those factors that made it different from just any other point in history when Christians where concerned about the two general points you list (and there have certainly been many such points in church history).

Speaking historically, Fundamentalism as a project to save the mainline denominations has failed. Fundamentalism did succeed in preserving a loosely organized group of Protestants who were commited to basic orthodox Christianity, and did thereby give birth fo much of conservative Protestantism in American, namely, evangelical Christianity.

That said, we're in a radically different milieu now than Christians were in the early twentieth-century, so the fact that there are challenges to be faced - and there always are - does not mean those challenges place us in the same or closely analagous situation as the original Fundamentalists. Just the general historical, cultural, and intellectual factors are radically different; never mind the changes in the church in America, which have also been significant.

Fundamentalists today are completely ill-disposed to do precisely what the original Fundamentalists did; modern fundamentalists are so squeamish about purity they won't even have formal fellowship with someone like MacArthor, who is worlds closer to them than was Machen to many of the original Fundamentalists.

The idea of problema perennis, just like the idea of any perennial idea, philosopher, or truth, is helpful only when it's not taken to justify what amounts to a lack of attention to history and to the differences of the present from the past. I don't think that's your intention; but it seems to be close to what you actually said.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Joseph,
"Framing" must always be done in general terms. Smile
As for not paying attention to history, I've read every published work on the history of American fundamentalism... in addition to having grown up in it (OK, I'll admit that I more like "scanned" George Dollar's book). I could be off a little on the math, but it's possible that I've been analyzing fundamentalism for longer than you've been alive.
I think you're missing the forest for the trees again. Try backing up a few dozen yards and see if what I posted doesn't look a little better.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I could be off a little on the math, but it's possible that I've been analyzing fundamentalism for longer than you've been alive.

OK, that was a bit ornery... and I'm probably not that old (nor you that young).
I think I'll stand by the rest of it though.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Joseph's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Joseph,
"Framing" must always be done in general terms. Smile
As for not paying attention to history, I've read every published work on the history of American fundamentalism... in addition to having grown up in it (OK, I'll admit that I more like "scanned" George Dollar's book). I could be off a little on the math, but it's possible that I've been analyzing fundamentalism for longer than you've been alive.
I think you're missing the forest for the trees again. Try backing up a few dozen yards and see if what I posted doesn't look a little better.

Aaron,

You seem ill-disposed to actually respond to what I write, so I write this hoping, more than expecting, a response to its contents, rather than a general dismissal. (Citations of authority//credentials in response to criticism generally do not bode well for a discussion)

First, besides that fact that I'm impressed by your claim to have read everything published on Fundamentalism (something, frankly, many historians would probably not claim), that's strictly irrelevant to whether what you said was valid, accurate, or generally helpful. If you cited, for example, some of the many people you've read to the effect that your view of the similarity of the present to the past justifies your comments, than all of your reading would be relevant. But you didn't, although I'm happy to modify my response should I find that credible historians would support your comparison.

Second, extensive reading is only as good as the interpretive framework that assimilates it. That's just a general observation, one that's relevant when encountering, for example, scholars who have read most of the relevant material on a topic but are clearly nincompoops of some sort relevant to our taking them seriously. One can lack judgment, for example, or have an overly narrow and therefore inflated conception of the one area in which one has done much reading (a common tendency in specialized persons, whether professionals or laymen), and this is actually rather common among modern researchers, which is one reason thinkers from Newman to the present have been deploring specialization when taking to extremes. Certainly it's the case that you dismiss the statements of credentialed experts, not merely well-read laymen, about whose fields you know little or nothing (e.g I would guess you are not a anthropologist or a biologist, or an astronomer, although you reject conclusions from experts in these fields necessarily if you hold to creation science). Moreover, I have no intention of engaging in a debate about who has read more about what; it's usually quite obvious very quickly when someone is informed and writes and draws conclusions based on an insightful internalization of the relevant material; and where it is not so obvious, it is either because the person is not so informed, or the audience is unable, due to ignorance/lack of training,, to distinguish between a judicious, informed person in that field and one who is not. In this latter case, dropping credentials or authority would obviously be useless.

Third, clarification of what the forest is, in your comments, that I am missing for the trees, would certainly elucidate what we disagree about in this instance, if anything. Your comments seemed to be, generally (at the "forest level") a comparison about the present times with the nature of historical Fundamentalism with the intent of supporting the claim that, fundamentally, despite some largely surface, accidental changes, our situation is like theirs, and therefore calls for a similar response. This, in turn, runs against people who regard Fundamentalism as dead or needing to die.

Now, I have just made quite explicit what I took you to be saying, in order allow you dispel any confusions my reading of your post may have been based upon. If I basically read you correctly, however, then my criticism, while hardly of momentous import, remain relevant, and, whether you respond to it or not, certainly doesn't deserve the kind of dismissal you seem wont to give in places where careful argumentation or judicious explanation is called for and the interlocutor is one for whom you obviously have little regard, at least in conversation.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

"One underlying thesis of this series is that the fundamentalist movement no longer exists. The unraveling of the movement began in the 1960s and has continued virtually without interruption...All contemporary fundamentalists are modified fundamentalists, in the sense that they all require some modifier or qualifier to be attached to the name."

As a relative late-comer to fundamentalism (basically becoming introduced to it in college, where I dove in with both feet), I am amazed at the amount of change which I have seen in some sectors of fundamentatlism in just over 20 years. I view most of these changes as positive and necessary (almost inevitable) -- bringing things closer to the Biblical balance where we should have strived to have been all along. Among the things which have changed in some quarters would be a return to expository preaching, less focus on extra-Biblical/anachronistic standards, less concern over separation in marginal areas, a heavier emphasis on the need for traditional theological education and a return to a truly traditional view of Biblical worship. Often, the clamor for these changes seems to have come more from the bottom up than the top down. One could argue that the popularity of this very Web site is strong evidence of that being the case.

Of course, these are broad, general subjects which could be debated in themselves -- to say nothing of the fact that each could lead to lengthy discussions as to how they are applied in specific instances and places.

I will also admit, however, that I find it troubling sometimes that -- even though change within fundamentalism may be made in a Biblical direction or for the right reason -- it is made with little or no admittance that the previously held position involved error, or at the very least the danger of binding another believer's conscience by going "beyond what is written" (1 Cor. 4:6, NKJV). For instance, if I previously had taught in my public ministry that it is sinful for a man to wear a beard, and then I realized that it was I who was wrong in this regard for elevating my opinion to the level of Scripture and mishandling the Sacred Text, I would think that I would have the obligation of publicly acknowledging my error and sin -- perhaps also apologizing personally to those whom I had wronged -- not merely changing my position and announcing the new one positivley.

The elements of "fundamentalism" which I find most encouraging at this point in my life are those which -- though operated by sinners to be sure -- have been forced to undergo the least amount of "makeover" through the years, as they continue to do what they do best, and what they had been doing all along -- namely, preaching the Word. Some of the methods have changed, but the message is ever the same.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Joseph... OK, let me try again.
Are you or are you not dismissing my original post on the grounds that
a) It's too general
b) I'm not paying enough attention to history?

That's what I took you to be saying and the gist of my response was that
a) You have to be general when you are summarizing (which is something you really need to work on, btw)
b) I know the history of fundamentalism pretty well, thanks (btw, my claim to have read all the published work on the history of fund. is really not saying much. Not all that much has been written... Bauder listed just about all of it in his essay).

I'm afraid I still don't see why that isn't a good answer.

Anyway, to return to my point, I do not deny that the fundamentalist movement failed to win back or prevent the slide of the mainline denominations. We all know that. But the movement as a whole only failed to the extent that this winning-back/preserving was the primary goal. Part of my point was that the regain/keep effort was only part of the goal.
What it was about was defending the Scriptures against unbelief, which is something you can do in your Sunday School class as well as on the convention floor of a denomination's national meeting. So I believe it's fair to say that--to the extent it's constituents have remained faithful to the Faith--this, too, is success.

So, where am I wrong on the facts or where is my reasoning faulty?

By the way, this is way to general... (and not what I said)

Joseph wrote:
a comparison about the present times with the nature of historical Fundamentalism with the intent of supporting the claim that, fundamentally, despite some largely surface, accidental changes, our situation is like theirs, and therefore calls for a similar response. This, in turn, runs against people who regard Fundamentalism as dead or needing to die.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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