Ellerslie Revisited

I read the Ellerslie thread and was surprised to see people were saying it was NOT a cult. Then I saw the thread was from 2009 and was hoping we can revisit it as they may have developed further in that direction since then. Here are my reasons for saying it is.


1. They teach that it is Satan that punishes us for sin.
2. They teach that is is Satan whose wrath was poured out on Christ on the cross. Both these points can be found in their "Gospel" and "Intercession" videos.
3. They teach that you can be saved and still left in some kind of prison. Found in their gospel video.
4. They have the good old gnostic tendencies which they teach you need their teaching and knowledge to go the full distance of the gospel.
5. They are extreme Keswick, I believe Ludy is a full-blown perfectionist, but either way they teach the traditional possession doctrine of the Keswick's in which you are fundamentally possessed and controlled by Jesus.
6. Promptings/"God told me" to an extreme. I know a lot of people erroneously hold to promptings and it is not necessarily heretical, but coupled with their Keswick "Jesus possesses me" doctrine and to the extreme they take it you get the sense they believe their own internal monologue is GOD's voice.
7. Their are too many theological errors in their videos to really list, they are just all over the place.


The line for a sociological cult is very grey, and very wide. Any thing that distinguishes a cult sociologically when taken in isolation is normally harmless and sometimes even good - you have to look at things cumulatively. My feelings is despite the grey/wide nature of this line they are way past it. If you see a place where individual personalities are diminished in exchange for a group personality that is based on a charismatic leaders personality or teaching it is a cult - I think you definitely have that here.

1. Students are discouraged from talking to one another about theology so they won't be influenced by others set theology.
2. They aren't supposed to read ahead in their materials until their classes.
3. They have a semi-isolated monastic setting
4. Strong submission to leadership who are supposed to have a direct line to GOD through their "spiritual" promptings
5. The belief that they have recovered some missing element in Christianity that allows them to live a higher spiritual life (i.e. Keswick)
6. Spiritual Elitism
7. 3 levels of Doctrinal statements
8. Over the top emotionally manipulative video series.
9. Just lots of small little creepy cultic things you can find on their websites and testimonials about how you will get something from Ellerslie that you can't get elsewhere - i.e. where men go to die and Christ goes to live kind of stuff.
10. Comb through the website and you will find just item after item that is kind of innoculous, but then kind of creepy at the same time.

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Alex Guggenheim's picture


Thank you for the affirmation. I took a great deal of heat expressing my view that it was a budding cult or a cult in its early formation. You have amplified my concerned with further observation. It is clear you are familiar with Ellerslie and have studied their methods and doctrine. Tomorrow may present more opportunities for questions which I hope to submit.


Aaron Blumer's picture

From the OP

Here are my reasons for saying it is [a cult].

Then, under theologically...

5. They are extreme Keswick, I believe Ludy is a full-blown perfectionist, but either way they teach the traditional possession doctrine of the Keswick's in which you are fundamentally possessed and controlled by Jesus.

And later under "sociologically"....

5. The belief that they have recovered some missing element in Christianity that allows them to live a higher spiritual life (i.e. Keswick)

I'm not a Keswick fan or an Ellerslie fan, but the OP contains all kinds of stuff that is not relevant at all for evaluating a group's cult status. When dealing with the cult question, it's necessary to focus on the essential attributes.

Alex Guggenheim's picture


Your post used the term "ordinary Keswick" and the OP used "extreme Keswick". You do know there is a deliberate and consequential different, right?

However, let's assume the rest of your objection has something worthwhile and that there are elements in the evaluation that are necessarily elements which are used to make determinations about "cultic" trends in ministry.

Then feel free to react to the parts which are.

I believe, however, you are wrong that the OP contains "all kinds of stuff that is not relevant for evaluating a group's cult status".

I see two points cited and in your first objection you mis-categorized the OP's use of "extreme Keswick" which you reduced to "ordinary Keswick" in order to form your objection so that is out the door.

The second objection regarding sociological concerns, the quote you gave from the OP reflects, rather precisely, one of the sociological principles of cult foundations. After reviewing the list it seems there is scant material from which to object but better yet, there is ample material from which to discuss and either vet or not vet.

I recommend you do a little digging on the sociological structure of cults or cultic trends in groups. You will find the very thing you quoted to be a highlighted element.

Aaron Blumer's picture

I don't think there is any version of Keswick teaching that can fit "cult"... that is, a version of Kewsick that is contradictory to any of the fundamentals of the faith.

Secondly, without denial of core Christian doctrines, sociological factors also cannot properly constitute a cult (and I'm familiar with the sociological features.).

If a group comes along that manages to hold to the fundamentals of the faith and still be a cult... well, it'll be the first in history. It might be theoretically possible, but it's no coincidence that this has never happened.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

I do agree that it may not necessarily be "a cult" but the options, cult or no cult are not the only options when investigating unhealthy organizations. That is to say, cultic elements or cultic constructs can be seen in small or large portions, positioning them at a distance for "a cult" or on the cusp of "a cult". So one may be at the beginning of a cult formation without being a cult or qualifying for its definition.

As to extreme or over-reaching Keswiickism, indeed that is the basis of Gothardism which is a cult. You have your opinion and I have mine so we can leave it at that. Bbut I certainly disagree with your conclusion that Keswickism  has not been used for cult formation. It, like any theology, is possible to be misused for cult formation and in this case Gothardism is an example of a form of extreme or aberrant Keswickism.

As to "core Christian doctrines" being held, they become meaningless if they are irrelevant to much of the real or essential operation of a group. That is to say, simply conceded to or agreeing with "core doctrines" while consequential practices depart from these doctrines and additionally, errant or heretical doctrines are  brought in under the guise of orthodoxy, does not magically immune a group from either having cultic properties or actually being a cult (btw since when is "teaching that is is Satan whose wrath was poured out on Christ on the cross. Both these points can be found in their "Gospel" and "Intercession" videos" orthodox? That is in direct opposition to core Christian or orthodox Christian doctrines.)

 In fact, it would be good to pay heed to Peter's warning:

You should not be greatly surprised to learn that orthodox biblical doctrine (orthodox refers to the accepted norm) is the primary means through which doctrinal error enters the body of Christ. However, in this day and age it is probably news to some and a needed reminder to many.

In Peter’s second letter he makes a statement of fact identifying this. He writes (2 Peter 2:1b NIV):

    They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

The word for secret, here, is (παρεισάγω) pareisagó which means to place something along side of something else (in order to hide it). Get the picture? It is behind the façade of orthodoxy that false teaching is introduced. The erring Teacher depends on orthodoxy in order to introduce his (or her, unfortunately to the many in the body of Christ asleep at the wheel) parasitic philosophy. Often, the very ideas contained in their novel but poisonous doctrine-which become absorbed and accepted without rigorous vetting-are later used by some to attempt to overthrow the very orthodoxy they claim to have believed when they made entry into the mainstream.

Granted it is referring to false Teachers but the principle upon which you argue is that "orthodoxy immunes", it does not. It is the #1 means by which error is introduced per Peter. And cults, themselves, often begin with orthodoxy but eventually develop into what they were truly intended to be, majority cultic in operation or a fully qualified cult.

As to the cult sociological structure, I believe Ellerslie manifests much of that and Andy Naselli, in his Six Sociological Characteristics of Cults reflects just what the OP points out:

[1] Authoritarian Leadership -Authoritarianism involves the acceptance of an authority figure who exercises excessive control on cult members. As prophet or founder, this leader’s word is considered ultimate and final. .

[2] Exclusivism

Cults often believe that they alone have the truth.

[3] Isolationism

The more extreme cults sometimes create fortified boundaries...Some cults require members to renounce and break off associations with parents and siblings. . . .

[4] Opposition to Independent Thinking

Some cultic groups discourage members from thinking independently.

These are just a partial list which, as the OP cited, are, in his estimation, observable practices and stated public policies for Ellerslie.



AaronWalker's picture

Yes - that is quite the stawman.  I went to a torchbearers school - also pretty heavily handed Keswick, but I haven't labeled them a cult.  Nor did I label Ellerslie a cult on the single criteria of being Keswick, and again they are Extreme Keswick, not ordinary Keswick.  I reamain a little shocked that someone could digest their material and not come away with a firm conviction that they are a cult.  It SCREAMS cult!

And really in this kind of extreme Keswick theology it is arguable they are denying fundamentals of the faith as they deny the completion of salvation on the cross, and argue for a second kind of salvation that requires your consent post real-salvation. 

Other claims that they make such as that Satan punishes for our sin and that Jesus took on the wrath of Satan on the cross are also extremely troubling.  Now I understand that when they are directly confronted about these heresies they say "we made a mistake" but at the same time the continue to keep their material that makes those claims on their sites, youtubes etc. with no retraction or explanation.  That is very "mormon" to me - denying with the left hand while confirming with the right hand.

2 fingers, 6 strings, 1 part gypsy, 1 part Debussy.

AaronWalker's picture

Labeling something a cult is never a black or white line, you take cumulative evidence and apply discernment and make a judgment call.  It seems you are looking for more of a mathematical formula based on strictly theological criteria for deciding if something is a cult.  I simply disagree with your very methodology in applying discernment on this issue.

2 fingers, 6 strings, 1 part gypsy, 1 part Debussy.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Use of the c word here comes off as a way of trying to avoid what really needs talking about. Since we all reject cults, it's handy to just dump what we don't like in that can and end the discussion.

Once we strip away the emotionally loaded term "cult," what are we left with? Concrete questions like these....

  • What do they teach that denies or redefines the fundamentals of the Christian faith?
  • What do they do that is incompatible with Christian faith and practice?

On the second question, having a somewhat isolated community doesn't qualify, nor does having somewhat grandiose ideas about what they're doing. On the first question, what is this "extreme form of Keswick"? It's hard to see how any form of Keswick teaching denies/redefines the fundamentals of the Christian faith since Keswick assumes those beliefs at the start. 

As for what the group actually teaches, how it handles internal dissent, etc., I sent them a series of questions not long ago for the purposes of clarifying that in written-interview format. They were initially interested but so far answers have not materialized.

I have seen a tendency in some groups (Vision Forum, and Gothard, for example) to believe that they are special and should not be subjected to the same process of critical thinking everyone else should be subjected to. In the case of VF, they attempt to control what is being said about them rather than simply answer it. VF has some pretty weird ideas (preoccupation with "patriarchy" for example) and has a sometimes-spooky level of internal loyalty, but again what matters is not whether this makes them a "cult" or "cultlike;" the important questions are what ideas and practices are not biblically right and specifically how they are not right.

(Even groups that really are cults are best approached this way. I have never delivered a message to my congregation trying to prove that Mormonism is a cult. Better: present their faith and practice--from their own documents--and subject these to evaluation by Scripture. Turns out they are not wrong about everything, but their teachings are contrary to several of the fundamentals of the faith.)

AaronWalker's picture

I understand what you are saying - you don't want to call them a cult as you think that necessarily draws one into a genetic fallacy.  I don't think so - you can call them a cult and still have a measured assessment of their practices and doctrine.

The gospel isn't presented in formula, or bullet points etc.  Nor is denial of the gospel presented in formula or bullet points - so I still disagree with your methodology.  False teachers are not groups that simply have some denial of some bullet point - it is always a mix of theological and moral failure - that is not just how I put it, that is how the bible describes false teachers almost every time they describe them.  By your standards the bible writers would be wrong in calling people false teachers given what is said about so many of them in the bible.  When the bible calls out false teachers it is very often in a mix of moral terms and even what I think you would call "non-essential" doctrinal terms (they didn't have the modern concept of "cult" we have, which includes an element of social coercion along with what is biblically a "false teacher").  I think you should re-evauate your understanding of the how the gospel is presented in scripture and how denial of the faith is presented in scripture.  Scour the NT and find all examples of false-teachers being called out and see what is actually said about them that makes them false.  I would suggest listening to how Paul Washer describes the gospel in a more comprehensive way instead of simple doctrinal statements and bullet points (as I think evangelicals tend to understand the gospel).

Furthermore the best definition of a word is common use, especially in American English, which tends to be more dynamic than other languages - and the accepted use of the word cult is primarily a sociological use.  You seem to want to redefine the word as wholly a theological matter and then force others to accept your definition.  I'm willing to accept a mix of elements since that is what you see in common use, but otherwise I simply don't accept your definition.

 I feel firmly this is the case with Ellerslie and that we have shown conclusively it is the case they have significant moral and doctrinal failure.  If you don't want to call them a cult as to avoid some kind of genetic fallacy fine, but I'm still going to properly label then a cult.

Since we have fundamentally different methodologies to how we approach and understand the issue of "cults" I don't see that we will convince each other about anything unless one of changes our methodology.

2 fingers, 6 strings, 1 part gypsy, 1 part Debussy.

AaronWalker's picture

Though I think we are obviously in broader agreement that we wouldn't send our children to them :0) or recommend them to our friends.  Disagreeing on the definition of a cult I think is a fairly small thing.

2 fingers, 6 strings, 1 part gypsy, 1 part Debussy.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Yes, the group does not appeal to me as a parent and there is too much I don't know to recommend them to anyone else.

I do think the gospel and the fundamentals of the faith are pretty easily reduceable to bullet points, though. Although there is some fuzziness at the outer boundary (how much ought to be included) of "orthodoxy," there is not much ambiguity about what absolutely must be affirmed and absolutely must not be denied. This is what the great creeds and confessions are all about, though some of them go well beyond defining Christianity and aim to define their particular flavor. I appreciate their clarity even when I differ on some points (e.g., Westminster Confession).

TylerR's picture


Please do everything you can to keep your singles and teens away from Ellerslie. We had three people from our church attend there for eight weeks (after paying $4k each). My Pastor and I asked them not to go, but they were determined to do it anyway. They were taught the following at Ellerslie:

1. Sinless perfection is possible

2. Lordship salvation

3. Salvation can be lost

4. They knowingly re-baptize people

We lost two families from the church as a result of this false teaching. Keswick theology is not cult-like on its own, but the flavor of Ellerslie is extremely cult-like. There is a sense of worship of Eric Ludy that is quite startling. They are unwilling to listen to reasoned, Scriptural arguments against any of the positions outlined above. Their allegiance was completely transferred from the local church to Eric Ludy himself. Keep your folks away from this guy and his ministry.


Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Aaron Blumer's picture

TylerR, appreciate the specifics. If an opportunity ever develops for getting answers from them directly, I'll add these items--or some variation--to my list of questions. I don't have a huge concern about re-baptizing, depending on the circumstances, since, as a Baptist, I believe it's quite possible for someone to have been baptized inappropriately when they were too young or their profession of faith turned out not to be genuine. Still, you need a church to properly baptize. Is there an Ellerslie church?

The first three items are not cultic teachings, of course, but would be recognized as errors by most of us (though I hear #2 applied pretty often to views that really don't fit it)

TylerR's picture



My issue with the re-baptism was that these teens had a clear profession of faith before their trip to Ellerslie, and they themselves admitted they were not saved while there. Instead, they said through Ludy's teachings, they finally realized the true power of Jesus. There is an element of mysticism and awe attached to all their references to Eric Ludy that is frankly hard to express in this forum post. I assure you it is not normal or healthy.


There is, so far as I can tell, no church Ellerslie is a part of. I believe they are operating on their own. They have "chapel," or something similar, for students who attend but I am not certain Ludy is the "pastor" of Ellerslie Church. I don't think there is an Ellerslie Church. My impression is that they merely hold devotions for the students.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

dcbii's picture

Aaron, in what way do you mean "you need a church to properly baptize"? What about Philip's baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch? Philip was certainly a member of the Jerusalem church, but the baptism occurred away from a meeting of the church. Or the baptism of the Philippian jailer?

I'm not trying to claim anything at all about the aforementioned "rebaptisms," either good or bad, but I can't see that baptisms away from a church are necessarily incorrect of themselves.

I don't really know any hard information about this group/"ministry", but I certainly can say that what I have heard would tend to have me running the other way as quickly as possible!

Dave Barnhart

Alex Guggenheim's picture

An informative if not interesting anecdote:

Eric Ludy: (Ludy’s Ellerslie Advanced Training Manual in quoting CT Studd):

“we will have a masculine holiness”

John Piper:

“I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

Spirituality is not masculine or feminine, it is spiritual. It will manifest itself through masculine or feminine people but it, spirituality, is neither. But more importantly and rather theologically/exegetically typical of Piper in pursuit of a novel idea before he does his research or have it vetted by others (which appears to be the same track as Ludy), he misses the fact that the church is called, “the bride of Christ” and is a feminine noun. If one is going to assign any anthropological property, at least be theologically and exegetically consistent (why am I not surprised to find Piper and Ludy uncomfortably similar?).

TylerR's picture

One disturbing thing I have seen from Ludy after reviewing his two-volume class notes is a marked lack of consistency of theology. He is a hybrid; with elements of Keswick, Arminianism and Reformed theology. There is no consistency to his theology at all. I do not mean to suggest a man is not a Christian if a label cannot be applied to him, but he should be at least be consistent with his theology.

He emphasizes Lordship Salvation, which seems to be typical of Calvinists. This is very general, and I beg the forgiveness of some of the theologians here for this comment. The folks I know who advocate Lordship Salvation are Reformed, so I make the distinction.

He says salvation can be lost, which is consistent with Arminian and Roman Catholic teaching!

He teaches sinless perfection, which is Keswick.

He is all over the map, more to the point, I am not sure whether he is even aware of his inconsistency. Again, I am not saying somebody has to align with a particular camp, but when somebody is this inconsistent in his theology I wonder how grounded he really is in basic doctrine. I also haven't been able to find out where he went to school. Is he a seminary graduate? Undergrad? Where?

Very troubling. We could go on and on about Ellerslie, but I honestly have better things to do. We all probably have ministry work that deserves our time more than researching Eric Ludy. Suffice it to say I would not recommend sending your folks here. Please discourage them. Take a look at his website and judge for yourself.



Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Alex Guggenheim's picture

He does not have any completed undergraduate training, in anything, never mind being formally trained in theology which is precisely why his theology is the mess it is (CJ Mahaney anyone?).

What you are discerning is something beyond the level of cursory "orthodoxy" as a test for the health and Biblical validity of a ministry. In fact, the Bible never gives any credence to such an approach as is being attempted here to somehow legitimize or deflect the "cultic" approach of Ludy and Ellerslie.

I personally believe it is very accurate to use the term cultic or cult-like in describing their formation. But that aside, it should be rather plain to most it is a spiritually unhealthy and dangerous place.

Aaron Blumer's picture

On rebaptisms & church, it's my understanding that both baptism and the Lord's table are ordinances of the church and should be carried out under the auspices of a local church. Of Philip, probably one of three things was going on: either he was acting on apostolic authority, under the authority of the church in Samaria, or under the direct authority of the Spirit who had sent him to the wilderness.... though it's not certain that the latter would mean neither of the former was in operation.

Normally, a baptism is an act of "adding" (Acts 2.41) to a local church (along with its other aspects of meaning). Ellerslie would need some kind of local church oversight to properly baptize.

On "masculine," without context, it's a bit hard to tell what folks mean by this. It is certainly clear that God chose masculine pronouns to refer to Himself, chose the male gender for His incarnation and chose male leadership for His church. So depending on what sort of nuances are intended, one could certainly say there's a masculine quality to Christianity. It isn't Christina-ianity. I don't know why that should disturb anyone. "Masculine" character doesn't mean "women excluded" or "women devalued" or "women oppressed" or anything of that nature.

On perfectionism, though this is error, it's Wesleyan... and also not a Keswick teaching. I vaguely recall that there may have been a couple of perfectionist teachers early in the Keswick movement, but that teaching didn't become a normal feature of the system. But more important than "is it Keswick?" or "is it cultic?" is "is it true?"

About Ludy's eclecticism: I haven't really seen that (and I'm not sure being slavishly devoted to one system or another is all that healthy anyway). The "Gospel" video I linked to earlier refers to prevenient grace, which is an Arminian idea.

Didn't see the whole vid. When someone is that intense, my instincts are, "I think I'll walk away and we can talk about this after you calm down." That's partly just a personality thing. But it's also true that intense emotional appeal has a long history of being the favorite tool of those who do not want you to think carefully about what they're saying. Yes, it's true that you find Paul both "preaching" and "reasoning" about the gospel. I'm just not sure "preaching" has to involve being intensely theatrical.

TylerR... got copies of those notes? I'd be really interested in seeing those. Maybe scan and email?

TylerR's picture



I stand corrected on identifying the perfectionism aspect as being Keswick. Ellerslie does have a strong emphasis on a crisis experience, where the person becomes filled with the Spirit - which is Keswick, I believe. Each teenager, when I spoke to them while they were at Ellerslie, said they were being "cleansed by the Spirit" and were undergoing a transformation of sorts. There is definitely a crisis experience associated with whatever they teach at Ellerslie. The perfectionism, however, is Wesleyan . . .

I don't have the notes any longer. I borrowed them from one of the teens who went to Ellerslie, and she asked for them back. They were a bit disconjointed, because they were designed to accompany lectures.

I would echo there was a very strong emphasis on a weird form of masculinity. I say "weird" because the notes were full of phrases like "warrior," "growl" and other strange phraseology you don't see in Christian writings. Ellerslie (in Scotland!) itself is the alleged birthplace of William Wallace (Braveheart/Mel Gibson/"FREEDOM!!!")

Bottom line, the guy is weird, off-base and quite strange.  


Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Surprise, surprise I some how didn't expect you to ignore the fact that the church is called the bride of Christ and is a feminine noun and opted for using the masculine descriptions of God as a substitute. But hey, don't let a little elementary theology and exegesis get in the way of novel ideas that requiring rationalizing away the obvious. Hmmm... now on second thought I am beginning to understand why Ludy and Ellerslie are benign to you. UGH.

Greg Long's picture

Alex, if you were my teenager I'd say to you, "Could you please say that again, this time without all the sarcasm?"

Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Aaron Blumer's picture

"I some how didn't expect you to ignore the fact that the church is called the bride of Christ and is a feminine noun and opted for using the masculine descriptions of God as a substitute."

Substitute? The masculinity of Christ and the feminine characterization of the church are both true and neither minimizes the other. No substitutions are possible.

And nobody here is arguing that Ellerslie is benign. To the degree I'm interested at all, I'm interested in being precise about what the problems there might be and avoiding a lump-and-dump under the cult heading.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

You seem to be unwilling to distinguish degrees in this matter. That is some people are using the language cultic or cult-like or even in the absence of that descriptor are referring to principles that cults to use to control and indoctrinate and influence their members. People with very close experience with the organizations are echoing this. While an organization may not be a cult we should be able to still distinguished degrees of the matter. I do want to change my view on the anecdotal issue of whether the church is masculine or feminine. I was wrong in asserting that because it is a spiritial body is neutral. The role of the church is distinctly and categorically feminine. The church's spirituality or Christianity's spirituality is not feminine or masculine, that is neutral, but its operation is quite feminine. I know this thread is not for discussing it so I will leave it at that but I have been inspired to write a blog article today on this matter

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Greg Long wrote:

Alex, if you were my teenager I'd say to you, "Could you please say that again, this time without all the sarcasm?"

Seeing you've been afforded a quip I will reply. As your teenager I might respond, "But dad, you've modeled sarcasm so well, I thought you wanted me to follow in your footsteps."

So back to the topic please (requested merely as a member) some people understand the use of rhetorical devises.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Rhetorical devices... don't always work for their intended purpose (though it's hard to evaluate this one since it's not clear what the purpose was).

About masculinity... I wrote of a masculine quality of Christianity not of "the church."

Circling back to the topic... "unwilling to distinguish degrees." I'm not sure what you mean, but I think what I've been saying is clear enough. So I'm content.