Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gut-reactive theological method

“In Friday's post, I did not suggest, either in the original post or in the revised version, that supralapsarians insist that the elect are few and the reprobate are many. That was my summation. Hence those who admit that I did in fact suggest such a thing are guilty of misrepresentation.”

http://classicalarminianism.blogspot.com/2009/10/few-shall-be-elected-many-shall-be.html

How is that a misrepresentation if I’m quoting his very own summation? Doesn’t his summation represent his true views?

“Therefore, we are under no obligation to historically investigate what Calvinists have taught concerning the number of the elect and the reprobate, for no suggestion was made to infer such. Nor is it our concern as to what Calvinists have believed historically on the question of the number of the elect and the reprobate. The only thing that matters is what Scripture teaches. We will then judge the validity of the supralapsarian's claims against that righteous Standard.”

That’s simplistic and deceptive. You can’t begin to judge whether or not the supra position is unscriptural unless, as a preliminary step, you accurately describe the supra position.

If he’s going to claim supralapsarianism is unscriptural because it says the reprobate outnumber the elect, then that allegation turns on the establishment of two or more propositions:

i) Supralapsarianism teaches that the reprobate outnumber the elect.

ii) It’s unscriptural to teach that the reprobate outnumber the elect.

iii) In addition, (ii) could be broken down into either of two possible objections:

a) Reprobation is unscriptural

b) Reprobation is scriptural, but it’s unscriptural to teach that the reprobate outnumber the elect.

“However, if we find in Scripture any allusion to the number of the elect being few and the reprobate being many, we can then ask questions regarding the supralapsarian model of God's decrees.”

Of course, that’s fatally equivocal. Since Birch doesn’t believe that Scripture even teaches reprobation, as Calvinism defines it, then he doesn’t believe the reprobate outnumber the elect, as Calvinism defines it.

Indeed, this puts him in a dilemma. If he actually thinks, according to Scripture, that the reprobate outnumber the elect, then how would supralapsarian be falsified by teaching that fact (assuming that it does)?

“Thes following three Calvinists, however, had this to say concerning the number of the elect and the reprobate.”

i) Notice that Birch is once again equivocating. What is the point of quoting three Reformed exegetes? Is the point to establish what supralapsarianism teaches? Or is the point to establish the correct exegesis of a Bible verse?

Birch himself prefaced his post by saying it doesn’t matter what Calvinists teaches; it only matters what the Bible teaches. So why is he quoting three Reformed exegetes? Is that to establish the correct exegesis of Scripture? But if Birch thinks that Calvinists correctly exegete Scripture, especially on issues like reprobation, then why is he an Arminian rather than a Calvinist?

ii) If, on the other hand, he’s quoting three Calvinists to establish what Calvinism teaches, then his sampling fails to establish his contention. The question at issue is not whether some Calvinists think the reprobate outnumber the elect. Rather, the question at issue is whether this is a defining feature of Calvinism. Is this a sine qua non of Calvinism?

For example, you can quote Calvinists who are amillenialists. That, however, wouldn’t begin to establish that amillennialism is the official position of Calvinism, or even the mainstream position. After all, many Calvinists are postmils, while some are premils.

Quoting a Calvinist can only establish one of two possible things:

a) That such a position is permissible in Calvinism.

b) That such a position is representative of Calvinism in general.

Quoting a Calvinist does not, of itself, establish (b).

iii) Furthermore, remember how Billy chose to frame the issue. He’s taking issue with supralapsarian Calvinism in particular, not Calvinism in general. So, to establish his contention within his chosen framework, he would need to confine his quotations to supralapsarian exegetes. Are Calvin, Henry, and Hendrickson supralapsarians?

“Calvinism may have no official position as to the number of the elect and the reprobate, but those three heavy weight Calvinists sure believed that the number of the reprobate outnumber those of the elect!”

And, of course, you have heavyweights like Warfield who take the opposite position. Indeed, Warfield is in a higher weight division than either Henry or Hendrickson.

“Certain Calvinists tend towards affliction and vexation that their theology implies that God only intended via unconditional election to save a few. Why should that matter to them? If all things are determined toward the glory of God, then it should not matter whether or not God unconditionally elected to save three people out of a hundred billion, or ten billion people out of a hundred billion.”

Either Billy is still too uncomprehending to grasp the question at issue, or else this is another example of his bait-and-switch tactics.

I have no antecedent objection to the possibility that the reprobate outnumber the elect. And I have no strong position one way or the other on what percentage of humanity God has chosen to save.

That’s not the issue, is it? The issue is the position which Billy is attributing to Calvinism. The issue is whether Billy is misrepresenting Reformed theology.

I don’t think it’s asking too much of someone who plans to become a church historian that he should accurately represent a theological tradition–even if he disagrees with it.

Billy has repeatedly attributed to Calvinism the position that the reprobate outnumber the elect. That’s the bone of contention. Did he misstate what Reformed theology stands for? That’s the issue at hand.

Billy’s problem is that, at best, he’s conflicted. On the one hand, he’s an Armininan polemicist. On the other hand, he fancies himself to be a budding church historian. But he frequently sacrifices historical accuracy to score polemic points.

Billy then spends some time trying to exegete Mt 7:13-14. I notice that he blows right past the exegetical arguments of the commentators I quoted. He makes no effort to interact with, much less disprove, their interpretation.

i) He then goes on to quote Lenski, Macarthur, Plummer, and Griffith Thomas. This illustrates his lack of scholarship. If you’re going to do serious exegesis, and if you’re going to consult commentaries, then you need to have some rating system for commentaries, and not reach for just any commentary or study Bible you happen to own-–or can google.

I cited some top commentaries by some top scholars. Billy and I are simply not operating at the same level. Citing very dated and/or popular commentaries (much less study Bibles) doesn’t cut it, exegetically.

Remember, Billy has academic ambitions. He wants to be a church historian. So he needs to operate at a more academic level, with academic standards. I hope he wouldn’t quote a Puritan commentary or a footnote from a study Bible in a term paper for a course in NT studies.

If he can’t afford the best commentaries, or if the library at his college is poorly stocked, he can get what he needs through interlibrary loan.

ii) Keep in mind that I don’t have to have a settled position on the correct interpretation of Mt 7:13-14. My belief-system is consistent with either interpretation. Whether the elect outnumber the reprobate or vice versa is irrelevant to Calvinism. It could go either way without falsifying Calvinism.

“Whether or not one believes that the reprobate will outnumber the elect, that should not distract anyone from the fact that in the supralapsarian scheme, God's first decree was to unconditionally elect some to heaven and unconditionally reprobate others to hell prior to His decree to even create human beings.”

“Distract”? Billy is the one who keeps harping on the percentages, not me. I’m merely responding to his emphasis, not mine.

This is a face-saving maneuver on Billy’s part. Unable to back up his allegations, he has to back down. But in the process he acts as though I was trying to deflect attention from the real issue, when he himself made the issue of percentages a central concern.

“Steve Hays, of Triablogue, indicating that from God's view, the decrees were made simultaneously.”

Since they’re timeless, they’re not either successive or simultaneous. My point, rather, as I explained at the time, is that God views the parts in relation to the whole and the whole in relation to the parts. The decree is holistic. God doesn’t decree one thing in isolation to another. It’s therefore simplistic to think that in the internal teleology of the decree, one decree has no object in relation to another–as if this is a psychological or chronological process.

“Concerning the reprobate ‘revealing the justice of God,’ exactly how will they accomplish the revealing of God's justice? They will do so by spending an eternity in hell. And why will they spend an eternity in hell, ‘revealing the justice of God’? Because God predetermined that they would sin, and thus be cast into hell, solely for the purpose of ‘revealing the justice of God.’ Thus when I suggested in my original post that the reprobate were created solely for hell, according to Hays, what I should have conveyed was that the reprobate were created solely for revealing the justice of God by spending eternity in hell. And somehow this is a more biblical perspective.”

i) There’s a fundamental difference between the claim that God creates the reprobate solely to damn them, and the claim that God creates the reprobate to reveal his justice in damning sinners. In one case, damnation is an end in itself. Done for its own sake. In the other case, damnation is a means to an end. Done for the sake of other considerations. What could be more elementary–or elemental?

ii) Moreover, to simply express his distaste for a predetermined outcome is not an argument. I realize that Billy suffers from a visceral reaction to Calvinism. However, the lower intestine is not the best organ to use in evaluating theological claims.

iii) Furthermore, I specifically addressed the alleged injustice of predestining the damned to hell. Billy can only repeat his formulaic objection. He does nothing to advance the argument. He offers no counterargument to my reply.

“Of course, in Hays' second proposal, God also needed some reprobate fathers to beget some elect children. This is just utter nonsense…”

What’s utter nonsense is Billy’s inability to either follow his own argument or mine. I was merely responding to the way in which he cast the issue. Did I say that God “needed” some reprobate fathers to beget elect children? No.

I was merely responding to Billy’s sweeping claim about God’s “sole” purpose in reprobation. Whether or not it’s necessary (God “needed” it) is irrelevant to whether or not that’s an additional reason for reprobation. Remember, once again, how Billy chose to frame the issue. Does God create the reprobate merely to damn them? But if the reprobate serve more than one purpose, then that’s sufficient to overturn Billy’s contention.

It would behoove him to keep track of his own arguments. Of course, I realize that when he uses so many lame arguments, he might well be inclined to ditch them in the nearest dumpster. But I reserve the right to hold him to the terms of his challenge.

“And can only be substantiated by one's a priori that God has unconditionally elected to save some and unconditionally reprobated others.”

Calvinism doesn’t teach unconditional reprobation.

“Otherwise, no one would ever come to such a conclusion from a prima facie reading of Scripture.”

Of course, that simply begs the question.

“God did not damn the reprobate for the sake of damning them; according to Hays, the reprobate have a much more noble purpose: revealing the justice of God.”

And Billy thinks the revelation of divine justice is an ignoble purpose?

Even on his own terms, why does Billy think God damns anyone? Does he think God damns the wicked justly or unjustly? If justly, then isn’t that a good thing? Or is that ignoble?

“Perhaps this will comfort them while they spend eternity in hell for having done that which God unconditionally predetermined them to do.”

Why should the wicked take comfort in God’s punishment?

“In Arminianism, God creates those whom He foreknows will spend eternity in hell. In that case, Hays is correct. But how he sees this as no more softer than the supralapsarian theory is very telling. Hays forgets, no doubt unintentionally, that in Arminianism, God grants the ‘non-elect’ enabling grace to believe in Christ Jesus when presented with the gospel (Rom. 1:16), and when being convicted of one's sins through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). God's intention, if you will, was not to unconditionally reprobate certain people. The reprobate appertain to those who reject salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.”

If God foreknew the fate of the damned, then it was his intention to create them with that hellish destiny in mind. He knew by creating them that this is where they’d spend eternity. So he created them with a view to consigning them to everlasting hell. He sends them to hell. And he made them with that outcome in mind.

“His attempt to construct an Arminian theory of possible worlds (allowing for libertarian freedom), wherein ‘a hellbound sinner in this world is a heavenbound sinner in the alternative scenario,’ noting that ‘God didn't realize the alternative scenario in which the sinner goes to heaven rather than hell’ is nothing more than a smoke screen. For in both possible worlds, allowing for libertarian freedom, the hellbound sinner in this world, which could hypothetically go to heaven in another world (and vice versa), given different cirucumstances, etc., was still graced and enabled by God to trust in Christ Jesus. I have never been comfortable in the discussion of Molinism (middle knowledge and possible worlds). There is no way to validate this theory. I am much more comfortable with inquiring into that which Scripture reveals, and addressing God's activity in the only possible world to which we are privy: this one.”

i) My analysis doesn’t depend on Molinism. The fact that Molinism has recourse to possible worlds doesn’t mean that that’s distinctive to Molinism.

Rather, my analysis derives from libertarian freewill. Arminians attribute libertarian freewill to human beings. And they define that faculty as the freedom or power to do otherwise (and choose otherwise).

And what it means to do otherwise is cashed out in terms of possible worlds. A possible world corresponding to an alternate course of action. If Billy is committed to libertarian freewill, then that, in turn, commits him to a possible world which represents the hypothetical alternative.

If Judas has the freedom to do otherwise, then there’s a possible world in which Judas did not betray Jesus.

Libertarianism, especially the Arminian variety, generates forking paths. A fork in the road where you could either turn right or left. And there’s a possible world for each direction.

So if he takes Arminian action theory seriously, then God didn’t save lots of people he was in a position to save by instantiating the possible world or world-segment in which they were believers rather than unbelievers.

ii) Since, moreover, Billy clearly believes that only a minority of the human race is heavenbound, then God refused to save a majority of the human race although it lay within his power, even on libertarian grounds, to save every single one of them.

The only way around this–consistent with libertarianism– is to stake out the open theist position, according to which God can’t foresee future contingents. Therefore, God can’t foresee which possible world contains more believers. Therefore, it’s a roll of the dice which possible world is instantiated. And, unfortunately for most of us, the dice came up snake eyes.

“But could God not have accomplished this through angels? There were angels who obeyed the LORD, and angels who ‘did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode’ (Jude 6 NASB). He could have demonstrated His goodness to the angels who obeyed Him, and evinced His justice to those who abandoned Him. It does not seem proper to speak of God needing to create human beings (who will live in one state or another for all of eternity) merely in order to fulfill a decree.”

Is Billy saying that reprobation would be “proper” if applied to angels, but “improper” if applied to men? But if it’s proper in one case, why not the other?

12 comments:

  1. "Does he think God damns the wicked justly or unjustly? If justly, then isn’t that a good thing? Or is that ignoble?"

    If Scripture stated that God condemned someone to Hell who had committed no sin, would you find that unjust?

    I'm not sure I see a difference between condemning someone who has done no wrong and condemning someone who did not have the capacity or ability to choose anything other than that which condemns them. In both cases, the defining element of what constitutes an immoral action (volition) was missing.

    [By the way, just because the doctrine of election may be true does not therefore mean that all others are therefore reprobates. Election may be secured for some in a positive way by God to guarantee specific historic and important events while leaving others to their own choice. Some may even be temporarily hardened by God for specific purposes without necessarily impacting their eternal salvation in the end. This is a critical distinction, IMO]

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  2. I'm not sure I see a difference between condemning someone who has done no wrong and condemning someone who did not have the capacity or ability to choose anything other than that which condemns them. In both cases, the defining element of what constitutes an immoral action (volition) was missing.

    What are you talking about? If someone chooses to do that which condemns him, then by definition volition is not missing from that scenario.

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  3. John said...

    "If Scripture stated that God condemned someone to Hell who had committed no sin, would you find that unjust?"

    Guilt doesn't require a one-to-one correspondence between the guilty and the sin. According to Scripture, Adam's sin is a source of guilt. And, as I've explained in the past, notions of vicarious merit are not counterintuitive in human experience. So that would logically carry over to vicarious demerit.

    "I'm not sure I see a difference between condemning someone who has done no wrong and condemning someone who did not have the capacity or ability to choose anything other than that which condemns them. In both cases, the defining element of what constitutes an immoral action (volition) was missing."

    That's an overstatement. On the one hand, it's easy to dream up examples in which the absence of freedom to do otherwise may seem to be (or actually be) exclupatory. On the other hand, it's equally easy to dream up examples in which the absence of such ability is not intuitively exculpatory.

    "[By the way, just because the doctrine of election may be true does not therefore mean that all others are therefore reprobates. Election may be secured for some in a positive way by God to guarantee specific historic and important events while leaving others to their own choice. Some may even be temporarily hardened by God for specific purposes without necessarily impacting their eternal salvation in the end. This is a critical distinction, IMO]"

    Calvinists are well aware of arguments that try to relativize election in some fashion. That's a standard Arminian move, and there are various models which they put forth. Even mutually contradictory models.

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  4. Charles Spurgeon was hopeful that the majority of humanity will be saved...

    "Those individuals who try to caricature our doctrinal sentiments are in the habit of saying that we teach that God has chosen a few to be saved, and left the great majority of mankind to perish.

    They know that we have never said any such thing, and they also know that no man of any standing in our denomination has ever said any such thing. On the contrary, we believe that God has ordained a countless host, so numerous that no man can number it, who shall be everlastingly saved; AND WE THINK WE HAVE SOME WARRANT FOR BELIEVING THAT THE NUMBER OF THE SAVED WILL VASTLY EXCEED THE NUMBER OF THE LOST [emphasis through caps added], that in all things Christ may have the preeminence. Certainly, whatever may be our opinion upon that matter, we rejoice that the lines of divine
    election are not narrow, that the chosen people of God are not a mere handful; and we believe that, when the time comes for the great King to make up his jewels, it shall be found that the casket contains such multitudes of them
    that they shall be beyond all human calculation."
    http://www.mountzion.org/PDFs/ytir.pdf


    Same with Loraine Boettner.

    Here are links to portions of his book "The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination"

    Many Are Chosen
    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/boettner/predest.iv.iii.vii.html

    A Redeemed World Or Race http://www.ccel.org/ccel/boettner/predest.iv.iii.viii.html


    ****Read Especially***

    The Vastness of the Redeemed Multitude http://www.ccel.org/ccel/boettner/predest.iv.iii.ix.html

    and he based it only Post-Millennialism...

    The World Is Growing Better http://www.ccel.org/ccel/boettner/predest.iv.iii.x.html

    Just two famous Calvinists who did not dogmatically believe that there will be more lost than saved when all is said and done.

    I'm personally not dogmatic on the issue or the millennial issue.

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  5. Thanks for that information, Annoyed Pinoy. I was aware of Spurgeon's comments, but not Boettner's. I agree with you that we can't be dogmatic on the issue, but I do lean toward the salvation of a majority.

    I realize that the present dispute is between two Christians, Steve Hays and William Birch, but this issue sometimes is raised by non-Christians as well. I've seen skeptics approach this issue in such a simplistic manner that they don't even cite a passage like Matthew 7 to make their case. Rather, they just look at the present and past percentages of the world population who were Christian, then criticize the Christian God for not saving enough people. There's no attempt to address the undeserving nature of humanity, no attempt to address the salvation of groups such as infants and the mentally ill, no consideration of how the percentages might change in the future, etc.

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  6. Jason, right!

    *******

    Everyone, I think it's obvious why I posted those quotes/links. It's to show that Calvinism doesn't necessitate any particular percentage of saved versus lost. Both Spurgeon and Boettner are notable Calvinists.


    Btw, in an earlier post Stephen Garrett reminded me that Spurgeon addressed the issue of infant baptism in one of his sermons.

    Infant Baptism
    http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0411.htm

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  7. Steve said...

    Calvinism doesn’t teach unconditional reprobation.


    I'm assuming that statement includes supralapsarianism not just infralapsarianism.

    I've always wondered how supralapsarians can say that their position doesn't teach unconditionl reprobation since the decree to allow the Fall (logically) follows the decree to elect some to salvation and reprobate the rest. Yes, in supralapsarianism, God damns only deserving sinners (as in Infralapsarian, Amyraldian, even Arminian order of decrees).

    I still don't understand this. Can anyone help?

    Also, isn't it the case that when infralapsarians use the term "reprobate", they mean that God "passes over" the non-elect, while when supralapsarians use the word "reprobate" it is not a "passing over" since the decree to elect or not elect precedes the decree of the Fall?

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  8. What i'm trying to get at is, it seems to me that one would think supralapsarianism does teach unconditional reprobation since it not based on either foreseen sins, or the decree of the Fall.

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  9. I've explained this before. Demerit is a necessary, but insufficient, condition of reprobation.

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  10. Steve are you saying you hold to (a contemporary) Modified Supralapsarianism rather than a more Classic form of it? Because in the Classic form(s) the non-elect are not considered as sinful, while in Reymond's Modified Supralapsarianism, the non-elect are not seen as having fallen, *but* they are seen as sinful. That's why Phil Johnson (and others) consider it implicitly Infralapsarian.

    Here are how some have defined the order of God's Decrees. I think I might have slightly edited these definitons. So they aren't exact quotes

    ***************
    James White's listing of the various lapsarian positions:
    Classic Infralapsarian view:
    1. the decree to create the world and (all) men
    2. the decree that (all) men would fall
    3. the election of some fallen men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the others)
    4. the decree to redeem the elect by the cross work of Christ
    5. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to the elect


    Classic Supralapsarian view:
    1. the election of some men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the others)
    2. the decree to create the world and both kinds of men
    3. the decree that all men would fall
    4. the decree to redeem the elect, who are now sinners, by the cross work of Christ
    5. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to these elect sinners


    Modified Supralapsarian view:
    1. the election of some sinful men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the rest of sinful mankind in order to make known the riches of God's gracious mercy to the elect)
    2. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to the elect sinners
    3. the decree to redeem the elect sinners by the cross work of Christ
    4. the decree that men should fall
    5. the decree to create the world and men
    Robert Reymond, _A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith_, pp. 480, 488-489
    ***************

    How (I believe) Phil Johnson summarizes Modified Supralapsarianism


    Robert Reymond (_Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith_, p. 489)

    1. Elect some sinful men, reprobate rest
    2. Apply redemptive benefits to the elect
    3. Provide salvation for elect
    4. Permit Fall
    5. Create

    &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&


    How Vincent Cheung summarizes Modified Supralapsarianism (I think also taken from Reymond's Systematic Theology)

    1. The election of some sinners to salvation in Christ; the
    reprobation of the rest of sinful mankind.
    2. The application of the redemptive work of Christ to the elect
    sinners.
    3. The redemption of the elect sinners by the work of Christ.
    4. The fall of man.
    5. The creation of the world and man.

    Both White and Cheung hold to the Modified version.

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  11. ANNOYED PINOY SAID:

    "Steve are you saying you hold to (a contemporary) Modified Supralapsarianism rather than a more Classic form of it? Because in the Classic form(s) the non-elect are not considered as sinful..."

    It isn't meaningful, from God's viewpoint, to speak of the reprobate as either sinful or sinless, as if God's perspective is compartmentalized. God decrees one thing with a view to another. It's a false dichotomy to treat these in isolation. God can view a possible person in more than one respect.

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  12. I tend to agree with Steve. Notice that in the classic supra view, the first decree (the election of some men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the others)) logically implies what is explicitly spelled out in the modified view: namely, that all these men are sinful.

    I also seriously wonder about both the first decree in these systems, and the way they order the decrees in a flat list. I just don't see how it works. The decrees, if they are to be described in terms of logical priority, need to show nesting; viz:

    Objective: glorify God's holiness.

    Method:

    Manifest love & mercy, wrath & judgment through the Son.
    Outcome: perfect vessels of mercy through the Son; judge vessels of wrath via the Son.
    —— Requirement: vessels of mercy & vessels of wrath through which to manifest attributes.
    ——— Requirement: moral culpability of vessels →
    ———— Requirement: moral responsibility of vessels →
    ————— Outcome: create vessels in the image of God.
    ———— Requirement: all vessels sin → all vessels are totally depraved →
    ————— Outcome: cause the first vessels to fall.
    —— Outcome: elect specific vessels for redemption. Reprobate the rest.
    ——— Requirement: have the Son redeem the elect vessels → have the Son take on the elect vessels' sin and impute his righteousness →
    ———— Outcome: incarnate and crucify Son.
    ——— Requirement: apply redemptive work to elect vessels →
    ———— Outcome: regenerate elect vessels via Holy Spirit.

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