31 October 2011

Book notes: international availability, study guides, electronic, and autographs

by Dan Phillips

Happy Reformation Day, boys and girls. While we're all waiting for Spurgeon, Phil, or (preferably) both, I need to squeeze these in briefly and oh-so-bumpably:
  1. International shipping. Readers in Canada, Australia, the UK and elsewhere have often asked how to get The World-Tilting Gospel and/or God's Wisdom in Proverbs internationally (A) at all, and (B) without getting buried beneath shipping costs. Thanks to a BibChr reader named Margaret, I can tell you that The Book Depository has both available, and they say free shipping to anywhere. Nice discounts, too. So check them out as follows: The World-Tilting Gospel, and God's Wisdom in Proverbs. Thanks for your interest!
  2. Study guides for TWTG. Several churches are using or planning to use The World-Tilting Gospel as an opportunity to dig into Scriptural teaching about a Gospel worldview. They have asked if there are study guides. Not yet, and not yet planned. When I asked in early days, I was told that it depends on sales. That's all I know at present; I'll let you know when I know more.
  3. Electronic versions of God's Wisdom in Proverbs. I'm told that's in the works, no timeline at present. If you want my opinion, the book has so many footnotes (yes! footnotes! not the execrable endnotes!) that it mightn't be best for Kindle. Take advantage of the 50% off sale, have one you can hold and mark up with highlights and smilies and frownies. But when I know more, I'll tell you.
  4. Autographs. Believe it or don't, explain it or can't, many asked how to get autographed copies of one or the other book. My response has always been the customary inarticulate gurgle. No more! First: I love guest-speaking, and would love to be invited to guest-preach, but of course that's not always possible for a host of reasons. So I have made a way, by renting a post office box. I'd ask you to email me, and I can give you the address. You would snail-mail the book(s) to me with any instructions about the autograph, using a package I could re-use and including full return postage (or hel-lo thrift store!).
I know the one-star haters loathe posts like this, but these are all responses to repeated questions. Thank you! to all who have asked, I appreciate it from my heart.

Now you know all that! In case anyone asks!

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30 October 2011

Spurgeon on Home-Schooling and Catechesis

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The Following excerpt is from "The Form of Sound Words," a sermon preached Sunday morning, 11 May 1856, at New Park Street Chapel, southwark.

he reason why men forsake truth for error is, that they have not really understood that truth, in nine cases out of ten they have not embraced it with enlightened minds.

Let me exhort you, parents as much as lieth in you, to give your children sound instruction in the great doctrines of the gospel of Christ.

I believe that what Irving once said is a great truth. He said, "In these modern times you boast and glory, and you think yourselves to be in a high and noble condition, because you have your Sabbath-schools and British-schools, and all kinds of schools for teaching youth. I tell you," he said, "that philanthropic and great as these are they are the ensigns of your disgrace; they show that your land is not a land where parents teach their children at home. They show you there is a want of parental instruction; and though they be blessed things, these Sabbath-schools, they are indications of something wrong, for if we all taught our children there would be no need of strangers to say to our children 'Know the Lord.'"

I trust you will never give up that excellent puritanical habit of catechising your children at home. Any father or mother who entirely gives up a child to the teaching of another has made a mistake.

There is no teacher who wishes to absolve a parent from what he ought to do himself! He is an assistant, but he was never intended to be a substitute. Teach your children; bring up your old catechisms again, for they are after all blessed means of instruction, and the next generation shall outstrip those that have gone before it, for the reason why many of you are weak in the faith is this, you did not receive instruction in your youth in the great things of the gospel of Christ. If you had, you would have been so grounded, and settled, and firm in the faith, that nothing could by any means have moved you.

C. H. Spurgeon

28 October 2011

Wisdom Tweet

by Frank Turk

My wife tells the story of how, as she and her brother and sister grew up, and they started to spend time out of the house and without direct parental supervision, her mom would always tell her, "If you don't like it, you call and Daddy will come get you."  I am temped to give the invasively-curious a further anecdote on how this has informed my life as her husband and the father of her children.  We'll save that for another day.

Yesterday Dan tweeted this:

It probably flew under your radar because you're not following Dan on Twitter even though Twitter takes great pains to remind you (as above) that you shouldn't miss any updates from Dan.  That's your loss in general, but today we're going to point out why.

Dan has a spectacular book which almost everyone who has read raves about -- called The World-Tilting Gospel.  You may have heard of it, though not through the normal channels of bloggers well-known for linking to free publisher giveaways and good discounts -- a sociological effect which, frankly, we have our best men working on with no reasonable explanation.  And in it, he talks about a specific prayer which, I think, ought to speak to us as we think about Dan's Tweetflection on Isa 62:6-7.  Here -- let me quote it out for you:

So in one sense, when the true Israel -- that is Jesus -- prays for God's will to be done, he is the watchman on the wall who gives God the Father no rest until he (God) makes Jerusalem a praise on the Earth.  That is, Jesus is doing what God told Israel to do, and of course God does everything Jesus asks.

But think on this, my readers and blog-friends: if God has answered, and is answering, and will answer this prayer from Jesus, it means that God must, therefore, answer your prayers when they are for the same thing that Jesus is asking for here.  When you pray for God to glorify the Son, to give over those who ought to be given, and to see that they will keep God's promise (that is: his word), God answers that prayer.

In that sense, when you call him, he will come get you.  In fact: he wants you to call on him -- he wants you to remind him and even never let him have rest until he has done what he promised to do.  He's your Father and not merely some stoic sky-judge who issues functionary decrees.

Be in the Lord's house with the Lord's people on the Lord's day this weekend, and see how many times he has already done this.  It should be an encouragement to you.

27 October 2011

Fear and comfort: a healthy blend

by Dan Phillips

Wouldn't you think that "fear" and "comfort" are antonyms, like "love" and "hate," or "darkness" and "light"?

In a Biblical context, we might most quickly associate the word "fear" with "of the LORD," or "of Yahweh." That topic — "the fear of Yahweh" — is a major Biblical theme. Clearly, in Proverbs, it is a literally foundational thought (cf. 1:7; 9:10; 31:30). In the Proverbs book, a chapter of 40+ pages traces the concept its older Old Testament appearances, just so we can begin to understand of Solomon's use throughout the book of Proverbs. One discovery is that the concept itself frames and must color our understanding of each individual verse within the entire book.

When we develop the concept Biblically, we feel the burden to show that the fear of Yahweh is not (as some might think) an Old Testament concept as opposed to a New Testament concept. Indeed, it is quite literally a pan-Biblical concept.

This stood out to me in a recent daily Bible reading. Acts 9:31 leapt out at me in this context:
Ἡ μὲν οὖν ἐκκλησία καθ᾽ ὅλης τῆς Ἰουδαίας καὶ Γαλιλαίας καὶ Σαμαρείας εἶχεν εἰρήνην οἰκοδομουμένη καὶ πορευομένη τῷ φόβῳ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ τῇ παρακλήσει τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐπληθύνετο.

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
There's that same phrase we find in the OT; in fact, the Septuagint of Proverbs 9:10 has φόβος κυρίου ("fear of the Lord), as the beginning of wisdom. The post-Pentecost Christian church proceeded in that same fear. They lived their life from that motivation, the very same motivation found throughout the OT, and identified by Solomon as the necessary starting-place of knowledge (1:7) and of wisdom (9:10).

That in itself is instructive and thought-provoking. Though they'd been saved by the shed blood of Christ, though the Spirit had been outpoured, though non-Jews were beginning to be brought in, yet one thing that united them all is that they moved on in their Christian lives with the motivation of fear of the Lord.

It poses the question: how dominant of an element is this in the modern Christian's life? How does it affect the way he thinks, the way he forms views, the way he talks and lives and chooses and writes? How much is a lack of this quality a factor in the situations that vex us here at this virtual gathering? How many bloggers, writers, pastors are limp and passionless because they are less motivated by fear of the Lord than by fear of man, which is a snare (Prov. 29:25)? How many doctrinal errors, or errors of ministry or practice, can be traced to the want of that fear (cf. 3:7; 14:2; 15:33; 23:17; 28:14)? There's fertile ground for self-analysis, and re-examination of the genesis of wandering, in that topic.

But then notice the next phrase: "and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit." Luke sees and depicts this quality as seamlessly joined with the preceding. The two are joined by a simple "and," not "and yet" or "and by contrast," nor qualified by "sometimes... sometimes."

Clearly, the jarring disconnect we feel between fear and comfort was not a problem to Luke. It was fear that gave the heart and mind the right stance before God; it was comfort given by the Spirit that assured and encouraged him in the life he was moved to live.

I conclude that either, to the exclusion of the other, is an unhealthy imbalance. Conversely each, coupled with the other, is a spiritually healthy blend.

What God has joined, we shouldn't sunder.

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26 October 2011

Open Letter to D.A. Carson & Tim Keller

by Frank Turk

Dear Dr. Carson & Dr. Keller --

As I begin to write this, I do so with a personal sense of indebtedness to both of you.  I am not merely grateful for your books and lectures and sermons which have taught me so much: I am grateful for the spirit with which you have done it all.  That is to say: while I am well-known through a reputation of being quite a pill for the sake of the Gospel, you both are known as fatherly men who have a graciousness I am certain I lack, and it is that spirit from which I learn much all the time.

Recently, you have both penned a detailed statement about the nature of the Gospel Coalition, and about its duties or relationship to its readers and also its council members.  I found this essay instructive, and useful, and clarifying in the context it was coming from, but in my view, it misses the point of the concerns of almost all the critics of the dust-up over the Elephant Room.  I wanted to offer to you an outsider's perspective on what just happened and why it is not enough merely to say what you have said so far.

Let me start here: the internet is an astonishingly-big and astonishingly-tiny place.  For example, this blog gets more readers daily that most pastors have to preach to on a weekly basis.  We have the same reach on the internet as the Huffington Post (according to Technorati and Google, anyway) -- and yet I have only met a reader of this blog once in "real life" in a non-church setting.  The people I work with have no idea I'm internationally known for talking about Jesus -- they only know me as a guy who is serious about his family, his church and his work (in that order), and who thinks Jesus is a real person.  So when we think about what we are doing here, we have to keep it in the right perspective.  On the one hand, we may be highly influential to a certain cadre of readers; on the other hand, we are not hardly Glenn Beck or Piers Morgan.

But we do influence others -- other Christians.  It would be a particular sort of false humility to say that we didn't set out to do this in the first place.  Of course we set out to influence people -- hopefully, for the better.  The Gigabytes of resources on each of our sites speaks to this plainly -- your coalition, by assembling broadly like-minded influencers and authors and giving them an interconnected portal through which they can cross-pollinate and help others; our little gang of street fighters by speaking toward the prevailing church culture, against its excesses and foolishness, and with the love of Christ in its multifaceted brilliance -- in a way to cause offense, conviction, illumination, repentance, renewal, and finally joy.

To that end, I think it would only be through invincible ignorance that people reading this blog could not know where Dan, Phil and I stand on matters of first importance.  And while we are not uniformly identical in convictions (for example, I am a-mil with post-mil sympathies; Dan and Phil are pre-mil with not much sympathy) [/joke], we all bend the same way and don't really have a lot of internal disagreements.  But what we offer the blogosphere is a clarion call to what we believe -- and the open opportunity for any who disagree with us to disagree publicly, charitably, and for the sake of resolving the disconnect.  We have even been known to apologize when it turned out that we (and by "we" I mean "me") were wrong about something.

Some people find this too tawdry.  Many of them are people who, frankly, can't frame disagreement as anything except trying to destroy another person.  Their refrain is universally, "you would be better off doing something else, like ministry."  Others on that side think disagreements ought to only be private things and cite the Gospel of Matthew while ignoring the book of Acts, the letter to the Galatians, Paul's instructions to Titus and Timothy, Jesus' interactions with his detractors, and so on.  My fear is that you two fall into this camp, as implied by your recent essay.

See: that essay says a couple of things.  The first is the interesting distinction between "a boundary-bounded set and a center-bounded set."  This distinction is interesting as demonstrating kinds of unity, but I think this distinction always overlooks the problem that a center-bounded paradigm is never really center-bounded at all.  You know: your explanation uses oversimplified examples of boundary-bounded sets and then compares that to the robust example of TGC which (you say) is center-bounded.  But when you explain how the center-bounded criteria work out, it suspiciously looks more like a filter to keep out those with serious problems than it does like a center mass around which all of you orbit.

But you want to perceive yourselves and your organization as something which is, in the final account, attractional and not institutional or proscriptive -- so you describe yourself as center-bound.  Fair enough, I guess.

But here's the second thing: as an attractional vehicle, you have drawn people in who, frankly, need you.  They need the collected wisdom of your group, insofar as God has given it to you, to help them in their spiritual life.  And to maintain your self-perception as center-bounded, as essentially attractional, you abhor real conflict.  For example, in the video where Mark Dever briefly discusses the pitfalls of multisite with Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald, it strikes me that they only agree to disagree because, it seems, this doesn't really matter.  That is: the Bible is not very clear (apparently -- Driscoll's interrogative that "ecclesia" means "assembly" "according to who," as if someone said mother wears army boots, simply ridicules the idea that the NT speaks simply and clearly about the matter, denigrating the whole discussion with his characteristic application of humor) (Thx to Steve McCoy's insightful commentary on this video, btw) on what the local church is and is not as a community with any kind of polity.  The video ends with a classic "agree-to-disagree" and leaves the matter unsettled -- and worse, because Dever is a kind soul, he allows himself to be denigrated by the other two for his biblical convictions.

The result, then, is that there is no real conflict and no resolution.  To some, this is great -- because this is a secondary issue, these men of good faith do not have to convince each other, and the discussion is friendly, and we can see that somethings don't have to come to blows.  Selah.

But let's hang on a second: if I give this video all the benefit of the doubt, and concede (for the sake of the blog post) that it doesn't matter if your local church is local, what have I actually learned here?  Have I learned what to do when the actual essentials are at stake?  Have I learned what to do with and for a brother who is publicly coming undone?

The answer, I am sure you can see, is no -- no, this does not instruct me on how to be a real brother to someone.  It doesn't tell me how to live as if James 5 and Prov 27 are true.  And let's face it: the problem with the internet is that someone on it is wrong!

Not just in the "fields of ripe heresy" sense of wrong: the internet is also wrong because it is filled with people who, in spite of a good core intention to expose heresy and false doctrine, don't really love anybody.  They don't want good to come to those they think are getting it wrong.  They want to call down fire on folks rather than call them to repent, forgetting that Jesus is Lord and Christ both in the Acts 2 definition and the Philippians 2 definition.

This is so critical, gentlemen: most people reading the internet for spiritual guidance are desperate for help.  I think they really want to know better than they do.  And they will learn something from the internet -- for good or for ill.

So they find TeamPyro, or they find the Gospel Coalition, and they find other things, too.  And in the last 4 weeks, they have found James MacDonald endorsing T.D. Jakes as a brother in Christ.

Now, fair is fair: he has recanted a lot of stuff, and with respect to your joint essay, I grasp and accept your point that endorsing someone and merely interviewing them are two different things.  The White Horse Inn has interviewed skeptics and atheists and heretics, and nobody is calling for their resignation or expulsion from good company.  But in this case, if what we were trying to do is learn Calculus or Trigonometry, a lot of the work is missing.  We have a problem stated, and we have various statements that a solution was found, but getting from start to finish leaves the people who, attractionally, came to your site to learn about how this faith works, lost.

Now, here's what's not necessary: we don't need the reality TV version of whatever it is that has happened, is happening, and will happen between the various parties at TGC, including any trumped-up drama.  But when someone publicly makes an error of this size, the broad stokes of the public resolution are, frankly, necessary for the sake of those you started your internet site up for in the first place.

For example: After the controversy broke out, James & Company at the Elephant Room revised the mission statement.  No explanation, no comment that it was a good idea to reframe their approach.  Certainly no insight into why it's easier to rewrite the statement than to rethink the invitation to Jakes.  One day the mission statement was one thing, ad the next, it was significantly revised.  There is a step missing there -- namely, why is this action more wise than, for example, revising the guest list.  Mark Dever's name was removed from the list with no explanation -- is that relevant, or just a schedule conflict that can't be resolved?  Thabiti Anyawbile wrote a brilliant plea against allowing Jakes to attend -- and there was no public response to it from MacDonald & Company.  How does one process this?  All the public activities are completely disconnected except by theme.  There's no didactic or practical narrative to help the person you attracted in sort it all out.

For me, as an intermediate observer of the blogosphere and the internet, this is confusing at best.  Imagine what it looks like to the person who is a rudimentary reader of the internet, and a novice at understanding the political dynamics of a group of men who, let's face it, are all kings in their own castles who are also, they all say, servants of Christ more than they are great men.

What is missing here is how to seek resolution of tough issues -- and how to read through an issue like this and both exercise good judgment and call back a brother who is making a critical error.  And of all the people who are on the internet, it has to be said that you two are the best equipped and the best suited to help the rest of us out.

Saying what you might do is an interesting approach -- and it is the approach of the essay you have already written.  But showing the rest of us how to actually do it would be invaluable.  It would actually put into play something the Evangelical church lacks -- an education on how to exercise spiritual responsibility, and turn a brother away from wrong-doing and toward the right path, the right orbit in our center-bounded life which is around Christ.

So I ask you as a fan, and as your far-removed student, and as a Christian who is indebted to you: help us understand how to resolve this matter.  Please do not let the weak single tweet from James MacDonald that the parties #AgreeToDisagree stand as the milestone to this event.  That activity would be helpful to so many people for so many reasons that they cannot all be listed, but the one most important must be said: it will glorify Christ.

My thanks for reading this note, which is already too long.  May God richly bless you, and may your reward in him be great.

25 October 2011

Total, wild-eyed randomness: Camping, Driscoll, abortion, atheism

by Dan Phillips

Hi kids.

I don't have one big cohesive post; several are in the works...or, well, close to the works. In the same city as the works. City, continent, whatever, they both start with "C." As does "cosmos."

So in the spirit (but not the letter) of old-school blogspotting...

Say, did I say "C"? (Say that out-loud.) I honestly expected to be just one voice of many on Harold Camping's latest false-teaching FAIL, coupled with Family Radio's reported "So, yeah, then that happened" plea for funds. It may simply be that smarter writing heads see that Camping is all done and, at 90, unlikely to do much more damage.

There'd be some irony, there, though, wouldn't there? Many are (rightly) keeping a sharp eye on younger men who are flying under cover of formal affirmation of the doctrines of grace, yet doing damage.  I'd suggest that here's an older man who entered the Reformed community, complete with a nasty set of unrecognized baggage, and came to do great damage.

So now Camping has pronounced the Church Age over and done with, and falsely set three dates for Christ's return. Yet he continues to have an international platform, and still that platform can plead for prayers and money that they can "continue to minister to you, and to teach God's word daily." Roll that over a bit. What are they saying? Family Radio is saying that they have been ministering, and have been teaching God's Word, while Harold Camping has continued teaching and misleading many (and shaming Christ's name) on that station.

While we are looking for concrete expressions of repentance among younger spokesmen who have erred in significant ways, is it amiss to seek the same from Camping, or the platform which exposed international audiences to his false teaching?

With Camping's false teaching recorded and in print, if it isn't disowned decisively, how can we be sure that this won't be yet another unpaid bill nibbling around the edges at least of reformed teaching, continuing to do damage?

Since writing that, Jeff Jones brought this article to my attention. Now, the writing-style is a bit odd, and it's third-hand, so I'm not sure what to make of it. But (if it's to be believed) there's Camping quietly retiring, privately changing his mind, and so forth. But what of all the damage done? What of the teaching that is still out there, and the people still radiating the message?

This should be the topic of a post, but let me just say: the circle of the offense should equal the circle of repentance. You don't broadcast false teaching, then whisper "I may have been mistaken" to someone. You don't slander a public figure publicly, then drop him a private email saying "Oopsie, sorry, my bad" — and leave up the slander.

So if Camping has repented, if Family Radio has repented of being any part of giving him an international platform, I look for something a whole lot bigger. As big as the circle of deception, to be precise, if not bigger.

Speaking of dubious teaching in reformed-type circles, note the Sola Sisters' expression of concern about Mark Driscoll's little "My Chats With Demons" bit. It's just classic Driscoll though, isn't it? A sprinkle of sex, some really good and solid affirmations about Christ and redemption and the Bible, and then just some whaaaaat? stuff, all wrapped up in a Micky Mouse t-shirt. It can't be new; Driscoll alludes to the then-forthcoming Death by Love, a book with just those same features. Well, not the shirt.

Enough on that. Now turning to the less-alloyed:

Trevin Wax had a pretty terrific post titled How I Wish the Homosexuality Debate Would Go. Wax envisions a very clear-headed brother on a show where a host tries haplessly to land the usual "gotcha" moments, and finds his guest not to be as easy a target as others have been. In the course of landing many golden points, Wax has his preacher say:
...Christians believe people are more than their sexual urges. We believe that human dignity is diminished whenever we define ourselves by sexual urges and behaviors. Consider this: married men are sometimes attracted to multiple women who are not their wives. Does this mean they should self-identify as polygamists? Not at all. And surely you wouldn't consider it hateful for Christians to encourage married men not to act on their desires in an effort to remain faithful to their spouses. It is the Christian way, after all.
So doing, Wax very effectively makes a point I've tried to make in a number of ways, and which Denny Burk recently expressed very effectively.

Now Trevin's envisioned TV interview intersected with another current topic to give me an idea. One of the current presidential candidates who says that he is pro-life found himself in some miry muck under what should have been completely predictable questions about abortion and rape. That led me to develop how I wish the abortion-for-rape debate would go.

Finally, if you don't regularly visit Fred Butler's blog, you really should. Fred doesn't blog every single day, but when he does, it's "cherce." Take this post linking to an almost three-hour discussion/debate between a couple of well-behaved atheists and a couple of presuppositionalist Christians, one of whom is Sye Ten Bruggenvarfman, or some name like that. (I actually love everything that Sye does; he just needs to change the name to Johnson, or Turk, or something like that.)

The brothers completely demolish the atheists' non-position position, and it's instructive.

Just goes to show you: Listen and listen and search and search, and still the atheist position just can't get beyond "Oh yeah? Well our nothing is 'way better than your something! Because! So there!"

So there are some chewables for you on this fine Tuesday morning. Er, afternoon.

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24 October 2011

The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Discernment Divas

by Phil Johnson

he following video (40+ minutes) is from the recent Psalm 119 Conference in Keller, TX, sponsored by "Wretched," featuring Todd ("Freakishly Tall") Friel. Todd dragged me on stage to discuss the Elephant Room and other issues related to wall-building, biblical discernment, bad discernment ministries, shrill-and-sharp-tongued women who fancy themselves called to ministries of full-time criticism—and a few other interesting topics:

This was videotaped (evidently on a hand-held cell phone) and posted by Jason Delgado. Enjoy:

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23 October 2011

The Benefits of Trying Times in Our Churches

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "A Lesson from the Great Panic," a sermon preached on Sunday morning, 13 May 1866, at the Met Tab in London.

here are seasons when the professing church undergoes fearful trials. She suffered in olden times the ordeal of persecution. Edicts and writs were issued, forbidding all worship in the name of Jesus; cruel penalties were the reward of those who were faithful to the doctrine of the cross. The rough wind howled dreadfully; but the result was that the church, which had been overgrown with hypocrisy, was speedily freed from pretenders; and only those remained whose faith could bear the fire.

The church was thus refined by persecution, and might have thanked her persecutors for having put her through the blessed process.

Now-a-days we are not so much subject to this test, but the world hates us still. It now fawns upon the Christian; it invites him to share her joys; and bids him be no longer rigid and strict. It offers him rich rewards and soft speeches, if he will but compromise a little, and not be too sternly pure and upright.

What of this? Is it not the same purifying process? Let those who love the world go to it by all means, and let those who value the world's pleasures have them. If it were possible for me to put a hedge all round this church, so that none of you should be tempted to enter the theater or enter into giddy company; if I could put a wall all round, so that none of you should ever be tempted into the gin-palace or the play-house, I should not dare to do it, for what would you then be? You would only cease from these things because you could not get at them; the taste for such vanities, if it be in your hearts, would be uncured.

If you were hypocrites you would not be so likely to be found out, if never tried; and those of you who are genuine would never grow into strong men, but remain Christian babies-nursed and dressed by others, but not at all able to run alone. The blandishments of the world are only another form of that fan which is in Christ's hand, with which he purges the great visible heap lying upon the threshing-floor of his church.

When some of you fall into temptation, though we cannot but weep over you, yet we do not know but what your outwardly falling into temptation may only have discovered the rottenness and wickedness of your heart, and so we may be well rid of you; and you yourself, in the long run, may have your eyes opened to much secret evil, which otherwise you would never have detected.

At certain times discord has marred our churches. Blessed be God we have not felt it here, but when it does come, I am not certain that that is altogether a matter of regret. There are parties and strifes, and all this is sin, but when the church is shaken those that can be shaken will be shaken, and they will slide off, some this way and some that; but those who cannot be shaken will stand fast in their integrity, and defend the faith once committed to the saints.

There may also happen great fallings into sin; some who have been prominent in the church may make shipwreck, and when this occurs, woe indeed is it to the whole community, and sorrow to every member; but still I am not certain but what there may be a gain even in the loss, for then those are discovered whose faith may have stood in the wisdom of man, who have been depending on human countenance, and not following holiness for its own sake, and others who have merely been led by associations and not by principle, are led to great searchings of heart.

I would sorrow in all cases of failure, but not as though I had no consolation, for, my brethren, those only are shaken that may be shaken; but those who are rooted and grounded in Christ, and are truly what they profess to be, will stand fast unto the end.

That old oak in the forest is one of the noblest works of God. Look at it just now bursting into full leaf, bearing well its verdant honors, and making a picture worthy of the artist's rarest skill. What are these dry pieces of wood which strew the ground beneath it? What are these large branches which rot under its shade? It is needless to ask, for we all know that they fell from the tree during winter's storms. Is it a cause of regret for the sake of the tree that those rotten branches were broken off? It may be a lamentation as far as concerns the broken boughs, but the tree itself had never been so healthy, and never looked so complete if the rotten branches had been suffered to abide. When the hurricane came howling through the woods, the old tree shivered in the gale, and mourned as it heard the cracking of its boughs, yet now it is thankful because the sound healthy branches with sap and life in them are all there, and the withered ones no longer encumber the trunk.

Summing this matter up in a word or two, I do not think times of storm to a church are in the long run to be regretted; a calm is much more dangerous. The plague bearing miasma settles and festers in the vale till the atmosphere becomes deadly, even to the casual passenger; but the storm fiend, as men call him, leaps from the mountains into the sunny glades of the valley; with terrific vigor hurls down the habitations of men, and tears up the trees by the roots; but meanwhile all is superabundantly compensated by the effectual purging which the atmosphere receives. Men breathe more freely, and heaven smiles more serenely now that the heaviness of the death-damp is gone, and the poisonous vapor clings no longer to the river's bank and the valley's side.

C. H. Spurgeon

21 October 2011

A brief word on Truth & Unity (illustrated)

by Frank Turk

I have three pictures for you today to think about.
Figure #1
Here's a picture we might call "Unity in Truth," right?  A simple Venn diagram which puts all aspects of "Unity" as a subset of "Truth," and I think it's easy, when you see "Unity" this way, you can (and must) believe that as long as you're talking about "Unity," you must be talking about "Truth."

There are some transparent problems with this.  For example, if you start talking about having spiritual solidarity with Muslims because all Unity is a subset of Truth, you are off the rails -- because you are denying some part of what is True in order to obtain Unity. This view of Unity and Truth doesn't actually work.

So let's try another one:

Figure #2
This one eliminates the problem that the first one had by illustrating that there are some aspects of "Unity" which are actually not part of "Truth" -- but it assumes that if you are talking about "Truth" you will automatically demonstrate "Unity."  That is, all Truth is in Unity, but some Unity is outside Truth.

Hey: this is the Internet, folks.  You don't have to go very far to find contrafactual evidence for that statement.  So let's toddle over to yet another attempt to diagram the relationship between "Truth" and "Unity" in order to have a reference point mentally for what we ought to be talking about when we say something like "Unity in Truth."

Figure #3
To which all the readers say, "Aha!"

On the one hand, we have the kind of Unity which is absent from the Truth; on the other hand, we see that some kinds of Truth have nothing to do with Unity; and on the third hand we see that there is a place where we find Unity and Truth together.  This is the one which should help us visualize the relationship between Truth and Unity.

But so what?  Why break out the Gadfly color scheme and make us think using something other than words on a Friday?  Well, here's what:
Figure #3A
This is what we need to talk about.  There are probably 10,000 applications of Figure 3 -- like how to think about the "Occupy" movement, for example -- but Figure 3A here now makes us think about US for a second in a way that isn't going to be self-congratulatory.  Because the first thing we have to realize or recognize is that the church, walking around today (as it has from the day after Pentecost) really looks more like this:
Figure #4
That is: while we would love it that the Church actually is the place where Truth creates Unity and Unity reinforces Truth, we actually have some places where we are unified over the wrong things, and we are clinging to kinds of Truth in a way that harms Unity, and we also have things we do which are neither in Truth nor in Unity -- and these are, by a lot, our worst moments.  This is what the LBCF means when it says, "The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan; nevertheless Christ always hath had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name."  The Church ought to be the place where Unity and Truth intersect, but because we are talking about people here and not a bag of dimes, it's not going to be a uniform thing from the standpoint of what is and isn't inside it.

So here's the thing: if this is the reality of how the church exists in fact (and I am open to reasonable arguments against this view), why is it that we make such a big thing out of the problem of, for example, inviting T.D. Jakes to a meeting of pastors and calling him a brother in Christ?  Can't we just sort of sweep him up in our confessional escape clause here and say it all comes out in the wash?

Or subsequent to that: can't we just let the Gospel Coalition work it out privately now that this thing has happened?  Is it really necessary to see the calculus which gets us from the statement of the problem to the resolution of the issues -- or can we just be satisfied without all the steps to hear them say, at various times and places, "oh yeah -- we talked it all over, and we're good.  #Brothers #AgreeToDisagree."

Here's my answer to both those question, and then you can have at it:

We can make a big thing of this because the church is actually tasked to be Figure #3 in spite of actually being Figure #4 -- in fact we must make a big thing of it, if we believe our Bibles as we say we do.  We make a big thing out of it because what the Confession warns us about is becoming this:

What we categorically do not want is to become so concerned with Unity that we are simply giving up on Truth for Unity.

Last thing today: this is the struggle which produced the confessions and the creeds.  This concern about how much truth needs to be present in our unity is what caused the Church (big "C") to make creeds and confessions so that the clarity of the Gospel -- the whole Gospel, and all its necessary consequences -- can be both proclaimed and received.  When we choose a path -- no matter who we are, no matter what else we have accomplished for Christ's sake in the course of out lives -- which abates the drift, above, we are doing it wrong.  We are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

That said, this weekend, you personally be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people where there will be some admixture of falsehood in with the truth -- but at least you will not have forsaken the fellowship of the believers, as some have already done.

20 October 2011

Two parents, two legacies, two epitaphs

by Dan Phillips

Here is the entire Biblical testimony, direct and indirect, about one parent:
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer... (Acts 16:1a)

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Timothy 1:5)

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14-15)
Here is the entire Biblical testimony, direct and indirect, about the other parent:
...but his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:1b)
Discussion, conclusions, thoughts?

(For a lot more Biblical discussion and development about parenting, study Chapter Eight.)

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19 October 2011

Open Letter to the Gospel Coalition

by Frank Turk

UPDATED: I am certain that this Open letter did not inspire James MacDonald and Thabiti Anyabwile to get on the phone -- guys like that have calendars that have to align.  But today at about 8:30 central time, Pastor MacDonald tweeted this:

While it's not a press conference, it is a response on-par with the original twitter angry-eyebrows.  We should note it and keep it in mind as we think about this letter and what it has asked for.

Gentlemen --

First of all, when I look at the list of men on the council of the Gospel Coalition, I am humbled. Some of you are my age in years, but you have committed yourselves to the local church and the necessity of the Gospel and have served God in ways which, frankly, I will never approach. You are all pastors, church planters, and ministers of the Gospel who are personally faithful, and have blessed not only your congregations but all of the English-speaking church with your commitment, as Paul said, to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, to make the word of God known.

After all: I am just a blogger. On my best days, I am a street sweeper with a half-worn broom who tries to keep the broken glass off the sidewalk where the kids play.  It's a role which I have sought after, and which I possess, and which gives me a certain kind of reputation. I will never attend seminary, I will never pastor a church, and I am fortunate that anyone finds my reflections our common faith of any use at all. In that context, I thank you for your attention. I will be uncharacteristically brief.

On your site, you lead with this video:


It's a simple confession of what you intend to do as a parachurch organization -- and I think that's an important distinction to make. You are, as you say there, not a church or a denomination. You are a helper to the church.

Sort of inside the tent of that, the following appeared from James MacDonald a few weeks ago:

What particular action that ought to be taken toward this is not my place to say at all. This is a man of a lifetime of good faith, and we should see him as such. The lunatic fringe are the ones who would call for his dismissal or his removal from all good company.

Here's my comment on the matter, and you can take it for what it is worth, namely free advice from someone who has chosen to work in the secular world rather than in the household of God: It doesn't matter what action you take on this matter.

What matters, in order for you to be true to your mission statement, is that you do actually do something. That is: In order to promote Gospel-centered ministry to the next generation; in order to get the Gospel right, and to get it out; in order to avoid detracting from the local church; in order to serve the church; in order to demonstrate the lowness of Evangelicalism by juxtaposing it against the healthly fellowship which should be shared by men of good faith; in order to clarify the difference between fads/distractions and eternal relevance; in order to underscore biblical convictions; in order to put the Gospel at the center of the matter; in order to demonstrate the unity of your aim; in order that you do all these things well, you must do something.

By no means does that mean you must either have some sort of shunning, some sort of group hug, or some sort of steel-cage match -- by no means does it mean that someone must lose their standing either in your assembly or in the eyes of the larger church or the world. What it does mean, however, is that quietly scooting the matter under the rug is, frankly, cowardly, confusing to weaker brothers, disorderly, passively deceptive, and unkind to those involved in the sense that Prov 27:6 helps us to define kindness and friendship among men who serve Christ.

So I exhort you: this matter is a public matter, and it speaks directly to the core mission of your Christian associations. Make your action to resolve it public without teasing anyone's voyeurism; make your action public to teach the weaker brother how men of mature faith treat each other in disagreements; make your action public so that Christ can be glorified by the way you take each others' fault and work through them together for the betterment of each other.

I think you are those kinds of men. May God either prick or console your conscience on this matter as you seek to do his will.

18 October 2011

Singles, churches, and Scripture

by Dan Phillips

I married later than many do... which is to say, I was older than 18. It meant that I got to experience church life for some time as a single, as many pastors do not. I learned some things, developed some thoughts.

For one thing, I found that many otherwise-good churches seem to have forgotten what it's like to be single. A lot of activities assume that one is married, which one wasn't, and one felt left out. It is true that couples and families should be addressed and served by the church's corporate activities and by the preaching, but it's no less true that the singles should be encouraged and instructed.

For instance, a series lifting out the Bible's teaching to husbands, wives, parents and children would not be uncommon. But a series for singles? Too depressing? Too limited?

An unintended consequence is that many get the impression that the Bible just doesn't have much to say to singles except, well, don't have sex. Which it does say. So we hear that, and that you should pray that God will guide you to That Special One whom God has chosen and prepared for you and expects you to find or you're out of luck for the rest of your life — which, parenthetically, the Bible doesn't say.

There is no doubt that marriages (and marrieds) need a lot of help from Scripture. What I would propose, however, is that they might be just a skosh less needy of churches preached the Word about marriage with a constant eye to the unmarrieds. Many go into marriage with unrealistic and un-Biblical expectations. Worse, they approach marriage with the thought that Scripture really doesn't offer much in particular to them as singles.

This was brought to my mind lately by an unmarried reader who wrote me about sharing part of God's Wisdom in Proverbs with a group of unmarried folks. In page 199, I relate this:
Valerie and I heard a sad story once from a local church. Its women’s group was considering what book to use next for a Bible study. Someone proposed a very good book on being a Christian wife. It was summarily rejected. Why? “We don’t want the unmarried women to feel left out.”

My dear wife and I were aghast. What poor reasoning! Those were the very people who might profit most from such a study.
In fact, in the book, I practice what I'm suggesting here. There are separate chapters devoted at some length to relationships (Chapter 6), to marriage (Chapter 7), and to raising children (Chapter 8). In studying Proverbs, I don't forget to relate to those who are not yet married, trying to equip them with specific Biblical instruction to help them both in thinking about the whole issue of singleness and marriage, and in approaching the critical process of mate-selection.

So in that way I both move to try to meet the need I'm pointing to here, and trying to set a model as to how churches could do the same thing. You could say I practice what I preach about preaching. And now, you could say, I'm preaching about practicing what I pr... okay, you sharp cookies get it.

In sum, as Paul ranges across the categories in his instructions and exhortations (cf. 1 Tim. 5:1ff; Titus 2:1ff.), so should the pulpit ministry and the fellowship activities of the local church.

There is a companion-post over at my place today, for singles only. The meta to this post here is open, and I'd particularly like to encourage pastors to share their thoughts or responses to the need to enfold singles in the church's ministry.

Have at it.

UPDATE: partly due to the lively discussion in the meta of the first post Over There, I've added a second post devoted to the subject of Jeffing.

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15 October 2011

On Fraternizing with Rank Heretics

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from Spurgeon's exposition of Galatians 1:8-10, delivered by Spurgeon as a young man in 1856 (together with a sermon titled "The Offence of the Cross"), but first published posthumously in October of 1898.

here is one only message from God, of good news to men; and if you turn away from that, you turn away to a falsehood, to that which will bring you trouble, to that which will pervert you, and lead you astray.

8. Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

Paul is no fanatic, no raving enthusiast; yet he cannot endure the notion of a false gospel. In his solemn anathema, he includes himself, and all the brethren with him, yea, and the very angels of God if they "preach any other gospel." Let him be accursed, saith he, and so he is.

9. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

The modern style of speaking is, "Let us fraternize with him; he is a man of original thought. Surely, you would not bind all men down to one mode of speech. Perhaps, if he has made mistakes, you will bring him round to your way of thinking by receiving him kindly into your fellowship."

"No, no;" says Paul, "As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."

10. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

He would not be the servant of Christ if he pleased men. Those whom we try to please, are our masters. If a man tries to please the populace, or to please the refined few, these are his masters, and he will be their slave; but if he tries to please his God, then is he a free man indeed.

C. H. Spurgeon

14 October 2011

The Necessity of Biblical Theology, with Christ at the Center

by Phil Johnson

everal years ago, whan I was still fairly new to the blogosphere, our friends at 9Marks solicited my response to a survey question for the 9Marks eJournal. Here's the question, followed by my reply:

"In what ways will a congregation's understanding of salvation and the gospel be limited if their pastors do not have a good grasp of biblical theology?"

The answer is clear from history, starting with the sad case of the Jewish leaders whom we meet in the gospels. Jesus frequently scolded them for missing the main point of the Scriptures. They misunderstood the messianic promise (John 6:15). They misconstrued the purpose of the law (Galatians 3:21-25). They overlooked their own desperate need for true, justifying righteousness (Romans 10:1-4). They ignored the big-picture story of the Old Testament (John 5:37-47). And therefore they reduced the Scriptures to a manual for moralism, legalism, stark sacramentalism, and a hubristic kind of nationalism.

Jesus' answer, again and again, was to point out that He is the focus of all the Scriptures: "Search the Scriptures . . . these are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39). "If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me" (v. 46). "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (8:56). Even after the resurrection, the disciples did not seem to understand the full import of all this; so on the road to Emmaus, he gave them an extended overview of the whole sweep of biblical theology: "Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27).

Since Christ is the focus of all the Scriptures, no preacher has fully expounded the meaning of any passage until he has shown its relationship to the rest of redemptive history and how it points to Christ.

Preaching that omits this vital dimension always breeds the same kind of dull-heartedness and spiritual decline Jesus encountered in Israel at his first advent. The church today is in the throes of a very similar torpor, anesthetized by the suffocating miasma of man-centered teaching and moralistic platitudes that ignore the gospel. Too many churchgoers have been fed for too long on a steady diet of topical messages, motivational talks, shallow, feel-good homilies, or even thinner gruel.

What is the expected result of that? Worldliness, superficiality, bad doctrine, unsanctified church members, ego-driven church leaders, and virtually every other spiritual malady that is currently crippling American evangelicalism.

The only remedy, and (I believe) the best recipe for revival in the church, is a powerful wave of biblical preaching and biblical theology in which we recognize and proclaim Christ as the center and focus of everything God's Word has to say.

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13 October 2011

How Steve Jobs and Christ defeated death and preached the gospel

by Dan Phillips

Reader Yurie Hwang pointed me to a thoughtful reflection on the death of Steve Jobs titled Steve Jobs: the Secular Prophet. I commend it, and would like to lift a Jobs-quotation from it, and head off in a different direction.

Speaking of his cancer-diagnosis in 2003, Jobs said:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
And thus, Steve Jobs defeated death and preached the gospel.

Were I a Christian reader who knew nothing about the writer (me), at this point I'd be spluttering, "Wait, what? No he didn't!"

But, you see, Jobs did defeat death. Or to his own mind, and in the minds of many who hear him, he did. How did Jobs defeat death? By redefining it. Death is not an evil, death is not an enemy. In fact, death is the "single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new."

What did Jobs do to defeat death? Wished it away. Said words. Redefined.

Then, Steve Jobs preached the gospel. How? He preached the world's gospel: trust your heart. You are as gods.

I don't doubt that Job's thoughts made a lot of people feel good; and, for a lot of people, that is enough. Some might want to think about them, though, ask questions.

For instance, did Jobs really defeat death? Jobs now is, himself, dead. Clearly his redefinition was not an elimination, it was not a conquest. It was simply a transformation by talk. It was whistling (and myth-making) past the graveyard. The squash is still a squash, the liver is still liver — but the logomagician tells you it tastes really good. Or perhaps, more to the point (since tastes differ), the raging fire still burns, but the word-wizard tells you it won't burn you, it will cleanse you. And that may be enough.

Until you enter the blaze, and reality (blind to the rhetorical spell that was woven) crashes in.

And what of his gospel? "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become." Indeed. Adolph Hitler knew what he truly wanted to become, as did Robert Carnegie, Martin Luther, Jeffrey Dahmer, "Mother" Theresa, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and Dr. George Tiller.

But whose heart-dream was idyllic, and whose demonic? How do we tell? In the kingdom of the heart, there are no walls, no lines — or what lines there are constantly shift, constantly reform and reshape. As I explain and develop at length elsewhere, the heart is a broken gauge, an internal Jacob, incurably self-deceptive. Trust that, you say?

I remember the birth of that "gospel." So do you. It was in a garden. There wasn't an Apple, but there was some kind of fruit, and a serpent proposing a paradigm-shift. "Trust your heart," he said in essence. "You say you know what God says, but I say I know what God thinks and feels. You don't need His words. You just need yourselves. Be your own reference point. Reach, take, eat, know, become. Your heart will never steer you wrong."

And ironically, the moment our first parents trusted their hearts and reached for the fruit, the cancer that took Steve Jobs' life had its inception.

But now I point you to another Gospel that has its literary beginning in that same chapter, in verse 15 (also developed at some length in the same place). God spoke of a Seed of the woman (!) who would come and crush the serpent's head. The rest of the Old Testament traces and develops the trail leading to that Seed (which I develop elsewhere), and the New Testament unveils His arrival, and His mission.

Jesus, too, defeated death and preached the Gospel — except really.

To Jesus, death wasn't a good thing. It was the result and penalty of sin, and its aftermath held terrors which those on this side of the divide can only imagine. But Jesus used the most lurid and frightening imagery to try even to hint at the horrors that death held for each and every one of us, apart from a miraculous act of God. In fact, He would tell the tale of a rich man who lived his dreams, and dreamt of more and more, until death dashed his expectations and brought him face to face with the myth-shattering reality of God's judgment (Lk. 16:19-31). Where were his heart's dreams then? Lost in the flames, drowning in oceans of regret. Death was not that rich materialistic dreamer's friend.

In fact, as Jesus' spokesman would later affirm, death is man's enemy, his last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). Not his friend.

Well then, what did Jesus do about death? Redefine it? Not in the first place. In the first place, He yielded to it on its own turf and then He defeated it. For the first time ever, death was not able to hold one of its victims, but forever lost its grip on Him and His (Acts 2:24), for He not only was resurrected to life, but was the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25). For that reason, by His submission to death for His people He defeated the one who had the power of death and freed His people from its slavery (Heb. 2:14-15; Phil. 2:1ff.).

So now those who believe savingly in the Lord Jesus walk in newness of life, and need not fear death. Why? Because of some word-games? No. Because Jesus actually (and not merely rhetorically) defeated death, and because Jesus actually preaches a saving Gospel that brings us peace with God (cf. Acts 10:36; Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:13-22). This Gospel does not leave us chained to the deception-factory of our hearts, but frees us to serve the living God (Rom. 6) and know the true freedom only His expressed thoughts can bring (Jn. 8:31-32).

Thousands of years ago, the psalmist sung of two totally different paths (Ps. 1). Jesus spoke of the same (Mt. 7:13-14), and warned of any who would try to blur the borders (7:15ff.).

Nothing has changed. One way leads (in thralldom to our hearts' dreams) to death. The other leads (away from our hearts and word-games) and to life, to Him who is life (Jn. 14:6).

So when Steve Jobs said of death, "No one has ever escaped it," he made yet another critical miscalculation.

Christ escaped it.

Thus Christ alone defeated death, and Christ alone preaches a Gospel which saves in reality, and not merely technologically nor rhetorically.

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