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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.

Ch. 14- “Calling” Trumps Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put a subjective sense of “calling” above the Bible
In this chapter Grudem complains about how women who think they have a calling will simply set aside the Bible in order to follow it.  My big problem with this chapter is how ridiculously misinformed Grudem seems to be about how evangelical women end up in ministry.  Yes, it’s virtually essential for them to have a strong sense of calling to walk the difficult path towards ordination.  However, it’s their very dedication to Scripture (and the default complementarian position most of them start with) which makes that sense of calling so essential—without it, they wouldn’t dare even consider going into ministry!  In my experience, women who do feel God’s call to be pastors are at first very reluctant to follow and do not do so until after they have spent a great deal of time in study and prayer.

Grudem is wrong to assume that their “call” leads them to ignore Scripture.  On the contrary, this call pushes them into Scripture and until they are 100% convinced that they have no heard God wrong, most evangelical women do not think of themselves as ministry material.  The ones who do enter ministry obviously come to different conclusions about the Bible than Grudem, but that does not mean he should be allowed to dismiss the ease with which many evangelical women ignore their callings for years, nor the seriousness with which these women eventually investigate gender issues in Scripture.

Ch. 15- “Prophecies” Trump Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put contemporary prophecies above the Bible
In this chapter Grudem—who, notably, does believe in prophecy and other charismatic gifts today—complains that some evangelicals say God has told them there are going to be more women in ministry.  Honestly, I have little to say about this chapter, because I’m generally skeptical towards prophecy.  Grudem is right that prophecy shouldn’t contradict what we know to be true.  Of course, he and I disagree on that starting point from which prophecies might be judged.  Altogether, then, this ends up being a pointless chapter.  All prophecy should avoid blatant contradictions of our theology, so the question is really, what would we be teaching about women in ministry to begin with?

Ch. 16- Circumstances Trump Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put unique circumstances above the Bible
This is another chapter where I feel Grudem largely misrepresents egalitarians.  While, yes, many of them argue that it is illogical to hold back half the church from ministry when there are so many needs in the world, they do not say that desperate circumstances themselves are what excuse women in ministry.  Instead, we believe women should be involved in ministry, regardless of the level of need out there.  We reject ideas like “God called a man to this position, but because the man said no and God really needs this done, he has now called a woman.”  We aren’t substitutes, nor are we responding to a second-class draft which God initiated because the enormity of the task before us requires more men than are available.  In this sense, we don’t even believe what Grudem claims we do.  He is right, however, that most of us think that God—not being an idiot—has no interest in immobilizing half of his workforce.


Read Full Post »

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.


Ch. 13- Experience Trumps Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put experience above the Bible
This chapter was so exhausting I thought it deserved its own post.   Grudem splits the chapter into a few sections, so I will do so, as well.

A. How can God bless the ministries of some women?
Grudem says it is “because God’s word is powerful, and God brings blessing through his Word to those who hear it” (120), regardless of whether or not God likes the preacher.  He gives the example of Samson as someone whom God used despite not always doing things right.

B. The Danger of Loss of God’s Protection and Blessing
This section was crazy.  Seriously crazy.  Either Grudem is not as smart as his Harvard and Cambridge roots imply or he’s being deliberately manipulative.  He begins the section by asserting that “[i]f a woman goes on serving as an elder or pastor, I believe she is doing so outside the will of God, and she has no guarantee of God’s protection on her life” (121).  I’m not totally certain what he means by “protection” to begin with (since obviously bad things happen to good people all the time…), but he does offer a couple of examples of the chaos that might befall a female pastor:

First, there is the example of Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), founder of the Foursquare Church (a Pentecostal denomination) in the early 1900s.  She ended up divorced twice, “kidnapped” once (which looked like a runaway affair after the fact), and dead at 54 from an accidental drug overdose.  I didn’t know her personally, so I can’t know what really went on in her brief but dramatic life.  I admit, however, that her character sounds highly suspicious.  What that has to do with women in ministry as a general topic, however, I don’t know.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, Grudem offers an even more extreme example next: Judy Brown.  Judy Brown was an Assemblies of God pastor and former Bible college professor.  In 2004 she was convicted of “malicious wounding and burglary with the intent to commit murder.”  Basically, she had become involved with her neighbor’s wife, and she broke into the home to kill the husband.  Grudem loves this story for two reasons:

(1) Judy Brown had recently written an article published in the first edition of Discovering Biblical Equality, published by InterVarsity Press (when IVP found out what happened, the book was immediately re-released without Brown’s article).  As I have mentioned, Grudem loves to point out that IVP is so egalitarian-friendly.

(2) Judy Brown specifically had a “lesbian relationship” (122).  Since he has a later chapter dedicated to explaining how evangelical feminism ultimately leads to homosexuality, I’m sure Grudem was delighted to tell this woman’s story.

And Grudem attributes none of this to mental illness.  To him, she’s just another great example of the depravity of the “evangelical feminists.”  He says that if she had only taught women, he expects she wouldn’t have had God’s blessing removed from her life and wouldn’t have “tragically lost the ability to make wise judgments” (123).

Some may object to my bringing up the examples of these women, and say, “But what about the hundreds of male pastors who have committed great sins, bringing reproach on themselves and their churches?  Why pick on these two women when many more men have sinned just as badly?

I agree that many male pastors have also fallen into very serious sin.  And I do not doubt that in many of those cases God also withdrew his protection and blessing from them.  But in their cases the reason cannot be that the Bible forbids men to become pastors!  Surely nobody would argue that!  [He goes on…]

But with these women pastors, the most obvious, evident sin is that of disobeying God’s directions that a woman should not “teach or . . . exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12).  And that is why I believe there is a connection between women being ordained and exercising leadership as pastors and tragic results in their personal lives. (123-124)

I’ve never seen such terribly circular logic in my life.

C. What does historical “experience” really demonstrate about women’s ministries?
Grudem also enjoys pointing out the declines in membership and financial support within mainline Protestantism.  Apparently we are to measure ministry faithfulness by ministry “success” and ministry success by numbers of people and dollar bills.

D. We cannot immediately see all the consequences of women being pastors
(1) “Many of the most conservative, faithful, Bible-believing members of the church will leave” (126).
(2) Other members will disagree but stay and will have their confidence in Scripture eroded over time because they think the leaders are encouraging disobedience.
(3) Those who accept women in ministry will become theologically liberal.
(4) Churches will become “feminized.”  (I swear, if I have to hear someone bitch about this one more time…)
(5) Men will also lose their positions of authority at home.
(6) Children will grow up gender-confused.

E. Putting experience above the Bible is a form of “situation ethics” and is also the foundational principle of modern liberalism
Grudem refers to Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics: The New Morality (1966), explaining that “[h]e argued that people at times needed to break God’s moral laws in the Bible in order to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people” (128).  The last time I checked that was utilitarianism.  So, Grudem, let’s talk about Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.  Maybe you like Kant better?  Look, if we’re going to talk ethics, let’s do so the right way and actually talk ethics.  I personally think Kant makes a lot more sense if we’re going to talk about philosophers egalitarians might like, so I have no idea why we are having this discussion about Fletcher.

All in all, this chapter was even more extreme than I could have expected from Grudem.  Even if I’ve made you want to read it for yourself (just to see if it could really be this bad), I will not be held responsible for any concussions from banging your head against the wall.

Read Full Post »

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.

Ch 12.- Tradition Trumps Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put church tradition above the Bible
This was another one of those chapters that leaves one with an intense face-palm impulse.  First of all, Grudem moves away from talking about women and instead is discussing Kevin Giles’ book The Trinity and Subordinationism.  It is related to the women issue because Grudem claims the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, a position Giles believes to be heresy.  However, it’s a little more removed from what we’ve been talking about so far.  Of course, Grudem isn’t making his case about the Trinity here, but rather is complaining about how Giles makes his argument: Giles appeals to tradition.

Giles seems to think that Scripture could be used to support either side, but Scripture properly interpreted supports his own non-subordinationist position.  He takes his cues about how to interpret Scripture from looking at what the church has believed over time.  There is nothing wrong with this, of course—if there’s a complicated issue, it makes sense to consider what Christians have always believed.  They are not guaranteed to be right, but we should at least know why we disagree with them where we do.  (On the issue of women, for instance, I disagree with many Christians throughout history, a fact with which I’m ok.  But I don’t think we should reject tradition without careful study and reasoning.)  Sadly, Grudem resorts to an appeal to the anti-Catholic impulses pervading much of contemporary evangelicalism.

How then does Giles think we should determine which view is right?  The answer, he says, is found in church history: “In relation to the doctrine of the Trinity my argument is that the tradition of the church should prescribe the correct reading.”  For Giles, then, the tradition of the church becomes the surpreme authority.  His approach is similar to Roman Catholicism but contradictory to the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) and contrary to the beliefs of evangelical Protestants.  In fact, I find it somewhat surprising that InterVarsity Press would decide to publish this book.  [There he goes picking at IVP again…]  I am not suprised at this because of the conclusion Giles holds (egalitarianism) but because of the underlying view of authority on which he bases his argument (the superiority of church tradtion, not Scripture, because Scripture can be read in different ways). (117)

This is one of the chapters that really leaves me with little respect for Grudem.  He could make a real argument against Giles’ heremeneutic, but he doesn’t.  Instead he appeals to the prejudice of his readers—a rather low road, in my opinion.  Additionally, he contradicts himself by complaining about appeals to tradition, because Grudem himself has said more than once, “Oh, but nobody has thought women should be pastors until very recently!”  If he is going to appeal to tradition, he shouldn’t castigate others for the same.  (He is not even right, by the way, that women have never been in positions of authority in the church.  Besides the New Testament examples he dismisses, we can appeal to the case of abbesses who ruled over monks and nuns living in the same community, for instance.  Perhaps women in authority have been rare, but they have not been nonexistent.)

Read Full Post »

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.

Ch. 10- Does a Pastor’s Authority Trump Scripture?: Some evangelical feminists say that women can teach if they are “under the authority” of the pastor or elders
Well, hooray!  It looks like Grudem and I have once again found a couple things to agree on—in both ch. 10 and 11!  Grudem’s complaint here is that some Christians say that a man does need to be in the official church positions of authority, but as the authority figure he can then allow a woman to preach and teach and whatever else that is normally reserved for a man.  This is an easy way for some to have all the comfort of their traditional views with all the practical benefits of allowing qualified women to teach.  Grudem considers this inconsistent practice, as do I.  Unlike Grudem, I would be glad that women were getting any airtime to begin with… but ultimately, this set-up leaves me unsatisfied.  In fact, in some ways it is really insulting to women—it strikes me as rather patronizing for a woman to always need to be under a man’s authority and seeking a man’s approval.  (Of course, as Grudem notes, anyone teaching in a church is in some way under the authority of the church’s leaders.  If we had true equality, however, we would talk about everyone being accountable to church leadership, rather emphasizing women being under men’s authority.)

I find this a very wussy attempt to include women in the church, and Grudem finds it a wussy attempt to live out complementarian values.   And really that’s what it is: Grudem admits that “many who take this view say they genuinely want to uphold male leadership in the church,” and “this is not a commonly held view among the main egalitarian authors or those who support Christians for Biblical Equality, for example” (103).  It’s funny to me, then, that the chapter title still presents this as something “evangelical feminists” say.  Regardless of what label they ultimately deserve, I see these churches as trying to move forward in a positive direction but just not quite getting it right.  From this point the church can continue to emphasize male authority or women’s gifts, and it’s sort of unpredictable which path they’ll be on twenty years down the road.

Ch. 11- Teaching in the Parachurch?: Some evangelical feminists evade New Testament commands by saying, “We are not a church”
As I already mentioned, I also liked some of what Grudem had to say in this chapter.  He says that while not all parachurch organizations perform all functions of the local church, when parachurch organizations do perform these functions, they should have the same standards as the local church.  Hence, it doesn’t make much sense to say women can teach in parachurch settings if they can’t teach in church settings.  I appreciate this because I wish more parachurch organizations were not so wussy in their support of women.  (An apparent theme of this post: wussiness.)

For example, InterVarsity, which I love, is very pro-women-in-ministry in many ways.  InterVarsity Press publishes many egalitarian books (something Grudem has complained about in multiple chapters already), Urbana uses the TNIV and allows Christians for Biblical Equality to give seminars, and InterVarsity uses women to teach mixed-gender groups and has women at all levels of leadership.  I’ve even heard of a regional leader who tells potential staff that if they aren’t egalitarian they probably won’t enjoy working for IVCF—and hence, while not a technical hiring requirement, complementarian would-be-staff in that region tend to go in other directions (church work, Campus Crusade, etc.).

The thing I appreciate about InterVarsity’s not taking an even more official, more public stand on this issue is that students of various sorts are able to be in fellowship with each other.  Since some of those students wouldn’t have joined an explicitly egalitarian fellowship, InterVarsity’s quietness avoids scaring them off, even though I think ultimately many students find themselves moving in more moderate directions as a result of the teaching they receive from IV staff.  It’s also nice, I know, to not have to alienate the complementarian students and staff already involved in InterVarsity.  And of course, if InterVarsity got too “liberal” a reputation, they would lose some donors—it’s unfortunate that must be a consideration, but funding is a very practical necessity.  The downside, of course, is that things end up more variable on the ground (since no one has made gender equality the priority for the whole organization the way multiethnicity, evangelicalism, or inductive Bible study have been), despite the direction of the national organization.  And that women never feel InterVarsity’s full support.  At least, that is how I felt as a student—like InterVarsity was generally very supportive of me as a woman but too chicken to stand beside me if someone pushed them to declare their views.

All that to say, like Grudem, I think it’s inconsistent to support women in the parachurch while holding onto traditional views—or trying to avoid picking a stance—in the church.  I understand that there is a tension for some parachurch organizations, and that for many of them it might be advantageous to adopt a more gradual approach to this issue.  Maybe if they move in a certain direction without taking a stand, they can ultimately influence more people in an egalitarian direction?  That’s my hope for other groups, too, like the Synergy Women’s Network led by Carolyn Curtis James—a wonderful supporter of women… who, unfortunately, won’t take an official stand on this issue.

Still, I feel unsatisfied.  If we’re all moving towards the same goal, I will try my hardest to be patient, I promise.  But sometimes I wonder if we’re even still moving at all.  Just as I was writing this post, I was struck by a parallel: gradual abolition vs. immediate abolition.  I think I often feel conflicted over whether I can accept the gradual move towards egalitarianism that I see in certain parachurch organizations or if we need to call more loudly for immediate and total change.  I would rather accept gradual movement than scare parachurch organizations away from this issue entirely.  If that’s all they’re willing to do right now, I will try to make peace with that.  But a gradual approach is not really what I want or what feels right—and I fear that without more intentionality and boldness we will never “arrive.”

Continue with this series–read about ch. 12!

Read Full Post »

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.

Ch. 8- Is It Just a Matter of Choosing Our Favorite Verses?: Some evangelical feminists claim our position on gender roles just depends on which Bible passages we choose to prioritize
I felt this chapter was largely based on a misconstrual of what egalitarians are actually saying.  Grudem complains that R. T. France, Sarah Sumner, and Stanley Grenz all claim that each side is just picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to apply and that they think that’s ok.  As Grudem further elucidates their points, it becomes clear that they’re saying something more along the lines of “Taken at face value—like if we just interpret these passages literally—we have to start somewhere.  Of course, we can start with the verses that seem obviously egalitarian or start with those that seem obviously complementarian, and often where we start determines where we finish.”

Because these people believe in a more complex hermeneutical process (which we already know Grudem doesn’t like), I don’t think they’re actually saying we just need to pick our favorite verse.  Instead, it is obvious that at face value certain verses in the Bible—even certain verses written by Paul in the same book—are contradictory.  We have to determine what’s really going on in this situation, because we simply can’t take both literally.  In many cases one may be a more straightforward passage, while the other needs to be rethought in light of what we already know Paul is saying.  These scholars are simply stating that many times people prioritize one passage or another as their starting point in this process—but I’m sure they would argue that it’s not just “whatever we want” but rather good hermeneutics which will lead us to the correct answer.

Ch. 9- Can We Just Ignore the “Disputed” Passages?: Some evangelical feminists silence the most relevant Bible passages on men and women by saying they are “disputed”
I must admit I did not fully understand this chapter.  A few authors (two ministry leaders and Azusa Pacific professor Sarah Sumner) are cited as having said something along the lines of “These are complicated passages and people have many different interpretations—we need to be able to still be friends with those who think differently than us.”  At least that’s how read the quotes Grudem chose.  However, Grudem thinks they were all saying, “We can’t figure out these passages, so we just get to pick the side we want to be on,” which of course he sees as “another dangerous step on the path to liberalism” (101).  I feel he’s taking some of these statements in a way the authors themselves might not intend.  He’s also picking at some stuff written by ministry leaders for lay audiences, where it seems quite natural to admit that these passages are hard to understand.  I’m guessing that most people who have written commentaries on these passages make a case that we can know what these passages say—if they didn’t have that much confidence in their interpretative abilities, they probably wouldn’t be writing a commentary on Eph. or 2 Tim. or whatever to begin with.   It was frustrating that both this chapter and the one before it seem based on misunderstanding and/or twisting what egalitarians are actually saying.

The upside of this chapter was that I did see one area that Grudem and I can agree on: he doesn’t like it when people say, “We just can’t know.  So it doesn’t matter.”  I don’t think that’s what the writers he mentions were actually trying to communicate, but I have heard other people talk this way.  I understand the need to be undecided for a period of exploration and that this moratorium may last a while for some people.  However, I don’t think it makes the issue “whatever” or ultimately something we shouldn’t be trying to have an opinion about.  After all, as Grudem says, this really does affect our real-life marriages and churches.  We may be pushing for different outcomes, but we both think this issue is important.

Continue with this series–read about ch. 10-11!

Read Full Post »

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.

Ch. 6- “Later Developments” Trump Scripture: Some evangelical feminists say our ultimate authority is not found in what is written in Scripture but in developments that came after the Bible
Here Grudem complains about a few authors (R. T. France and David Thompson) who say something along the lines of “Scripture had egalitarian ideals in mind, but the first-century situation didn’t allow a full implementation of these ideals.”  Grudem dislikes this because he says it “means the teachings of the New Testament are no longer our final authority.  Our authority now becomes our own ideas of the direction the New Testament was heading but never quite reached” (55-56).  He also complains that I. Howard Marshall makes an argument that Paul gave instructions for his day, but that the principle of mutual love leads us to somewhat different standards for relationships today.  Altogether, Grudem’s basic point is that we are under the new covenant and therefore “living in the same period in God’s plan for “the history of redemption” as the first-century Christians.  And that is why we can read and apply the New Testament directly to ourselves today” (57).

Ch. 7- “Redemptive Movement” Trumps Scripture: Some evangelical feminists adopt William Webb’s “redemptive-movement” approach and cast all ethical commands of the New Testament into doubt
This chapter is in many ways an extension of ch. 6, but this time Grudem focuses on one specific author, William Webb.  Webb talks about ethics in terms of an X–>Y–>Z trajectory in which the X is the original culture, Y is the better ethic introduced in the biblical narrative, and Z is the ultimate ethic to which the Bible points.  Grudem’s biggest problem with Webb actually seems to be Webb’s introduction of eighteen different criteria which he proposes as a means of understanding this “redemptive movement.”  Grudem claims that Webb’s method requires “a new class of ‘priests,’ erudite scholars with expertise in the ancient world who will be able to give us reliable conclusions about what kind of ‘ultimate ethic’ we should follow today” (71), and he specifically puts such knowledge beyond all but perhaps 1% of scholars with PhDs in New Testament and Old Testament.

“…those few scholars who have the time and the specialized knowledge of rabbinic studies, of Graeco-Roman culture, and of ancient Egyptian and Babylonian and Assyrian and Persian cultures, and who have access to a major research library—only this very select group will be able to use Webb’s ‘redemptive-movement hermeneutic’ in the way he describes…  This tiny group of experts will have to tell us what moral standards God wants us to follow today” (71).

Grudem claims this will lead to a massive confusion over what God actually wants from us, which could be prevented if only we would simply apply the New Testament directly.  “We don’t have to use Webb’s eighteen criteria and study them through the filters of ancient Near Easter/Graeco-Roman culture to know whether they [God’s commands] apply to us!  Nor do we need any specialist scholars to decide that for us.  That is not they system God intended.  His words are for his people to understand and obey” (72).

I knew Grudem was very conservative, but there are conservative people who still believe hermeneutics matter.  Apparently Grudem’s solution to anything complicated in the Bible is simply to understand it more literally.  Really, I wonder why he bothers to teach in a seminary at all, given the extremely anti-intellectual tone of these two chapters.  I’m glad Grudem wants discussions about the Bible to stay accessible—I’m all for educating lay Christians so that more and more people can be a part of important theological conversations, but that education is necessary.  We can’t pretend it isn’t crucial to understand ancient languages and cultures if we’re going to properly interpret the Bible.  And this whining about how only 1% of scholars know anything about these cultures is complete hogwash.

Continue with this series–read about ch. 8-9!

Read Full Post »

The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.

Ch. 4- Saying That Paul Was Wrong: Some evangelical feminists say that Paul was wrong
Grudem’s big complaint here is that some people—Paul Jewett, Clarence Boomsma, and David Thompson—have said that Paul (or “Paul,” depending on your perspective about authorship of the pastoral epistles) said what he did about Genesis in 2 Tim. because of popular interpretations at the time.  Either the author fully accepted these interpretation or was drawing from them for the sake of convenience, but we today might have a better interpretation of Gen. 2 than 2 Tim.  Grudem says that, “these [complementarian] interpretations [of Genesis] are not just Paul’s interpretations; they are also God’s interpretations of his own Word” (47).  Hence, according to Grudem, these scholars are calling God incompetent to interpret the Bible or a liar or some other such awful thing.

Ch. 5- Saying That Some Verses Found in Every Manuscript Are Not Part of the Bible: Some evangelical feminists say that some verses that are in every ancient manuscript of 1 Corinthians are not really part of the Bible
In this chapter, Grudem complains that Gordon Fee’s NICNT volume on 1 Corinthians says that 14:33-35 are likely inauthentic because they are in different places in different manuscripts and don’t even make sense given Paul’s instructions to women prophesying in ch. 11.  He calls Fee’s interpretative methods “different from that of all other evangelical interpreters of Scripture” (52) and, in my opinion, deals rather deceptively with these verses.  While not everyone will agree with Fee that they aren’t original to the text, Grudem should make a real argument about why he disagrees with Fee’s conclusion rather than trying to scare people that Fee has no respect for the Bible.  After all, it is not as if Fee is simply cutting and pasting willy nilly in the manner of Thomas Jefferson.

Continue with this series–read about ch. 6-7!

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