Meredith Kline and Subscriptionism

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by CalvinandHodges, Jul 22, 2008.

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  1. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Yes, well you boys here waited until he was dead to start beating up on him didn't you? That's what irritates me.

    Further, this whole thread started hostile and has remained so. I've only seen one attempt to try to read him charitably and that attempt was rebuffed immediately.

    Finally, there has been a fairly constant drumbeat on the PB to discredit Meredith. It's hard for me to see this as fair, careful, contextual investigation of an orthodox OPC minister (and it seems that one doesn't necessarily have to be in the same presbytery of the OPC to initiate investigations so I don't see why it's just his presbytery that shall have answer to God) but rather a jaundiced attempt to smear a man's reputation and to discredit his work comprehensively.

    The thread did not begin by asking, "I wonder what this might mean? It did not begin by looking into the context or by placing his work in a broader context.

    Here's a context. Meredith did most of his work in a time when people were a little less aware of historical theology. Frankly there just wasn't much of it being done in our circles when he was being trained and when he was teaching. Historians were seen but not heard. He didn't work in a context where bib-studies profs were held accountable for their historical claims. I think this fostered some bad habits.

    As I've noted here before, he also had a bad habit of making up words. If we're going to dig up his corpse and smack him around why don't we try to find out what he meant by his unique vocabulary rather than assuming the worst?

    Finally, wasn't there some post that we all had read lately about treating ministers in our churches with respect? What? Meredith doesn't count? I was chastened by that post and it made me think about the ways I've spoken about ministers in good standing and I wasn't thinking about completely orthodox ministers either. I confess that, in the heat of battle, I haven't always been as churchly as I should have been -- I over reacted to Presbyterian politeness at times -- in this respect.

    If MGK received the benefit of the doubt the tenor of this thread would be very different.
  2. Grafted In

    Grafted In Puritan Board Freshman

    As I have read this thread I have repeatedly thought of that scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail [video=youtube;yp_l5ntikaU][/video] where the town folks are so anxious to burn a woman for being a witch that despite the fact that all of the evidence that they brought forward was planted by themselves, they engaged in all kinds of silly logic to accomplish the end that they desired.

    I am not saying that the criticism that Dr. Kline has opened himself up to and that has been directed toward him in this thread is unwarranted or has been "planted" on him or even that Dr. Kline's critics are using poor logic, but that it appears, in an eagerness to snuff out any unorthodoxy (which is a good thing and a collective strength of a forum like this), that all charity has gone out the window.

    It seems to me that when you charge somebody with heresy or false teaching that it would be most charitable to assume that the person would respond to the criticism, receive the critique, engage in clearing up the misunderstandings or lovingly debating the topic at hand with the goal of remaining within the circle of orthodoxy.

    Unfortunately, as Dr. Clark has pointed out, Dr. Kline is not here to defend his desire to explain his positions in an orthodox way, but it would seem the best course of action to assume that he would like to do just that.

    Don't reformed folk do the same thing with Augustine, of whom it could be said that not all of his views were orthodox?
  3. CalvinandHodges

    CalvinandHodges Puritan Board Junior

    Greetings Dr. Clark:

    Over the years I have been much blessed by your writings - both in book form and here at the Puritanboard. I thank you very much for that.

    I would like you to know that I know very little and next to nothing about Dr. Meredith Kline. If you will note on the original post the question I asked was generated from reading another thread on Meredith Kline, and I was told to start a new thread in order to keep the discussion within the topic.

    I was disturbed by what was said about Dr. Kline, and, thus I wanted to see if there was any truth about it. My question was sincere, and purely academic. If I seemed antognistic, then I am sorry for it.

    Now I have a new question: Does criticism of a particular position championed by a theologian/minister warrant a censure of it based on the ninth commandment?

    Maybe I will have to write a new thread on this subject?

    Blessings to you and your family this new year,

  4. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Just to be fair Dr. Clark many were probably not in a position to criticize or even understand Dr. Kline until the later end of his life and or until they had read his work.

    We criticize dead people's works all the time. And I don't think that is bad.

    It sounds like people might be more equipped today to deal with Kline's understanding and theology than they were when he was more active. At least that is what I am hearing in your assessment here. So it sounds like a better critique might be more necessary.

    Just to be honest here this sounds dangerous. I do understand that language does change and evolve. New terms are necessary as time passes. i.e. Trinity. But to make up words without much context is not necessarily good for the church in my estimation. When the Word for Trinity was coined there was much to do about it. It came into its own definition because of controversy. And it was defined in a way that made people understand it based upon Biblical understanding.

    Here is what you are referring to Dr. Clark.

    I believe this discussion is in bounds.
  5. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    No, we criticize Augustine regularly. I did it just last night at Bible Study when I said that instead of dumping his live in partner out of some mistaken doctrine that marriage was evil for ministers he should have done the honorable thing and married her.

    The context was when a guy and his wife asked why we Reformed folk cared so much about doctrine, and what was really wrong with Catholicism. Me and another guy pointed out that doctrinal beliefs have repercussions.

    Leaving Kline's "unique" vocabulary aside (which opens anyone up to criticism) it's the things that he taught unambiguously that have caused trouble for some of us. His framework hypothesis has given a whole generation of people (at least in NorCal Presbytery PCA) and excuse to look down their noses at Creationists.

    Using MP's Holy Grail to illustrate why we should tolerate attacks on our Confessions isn't helpful. Rather it's another way of mocking the sophistication of those of us who think doctrine influences people's lives by someone who think's he's more enlightened.
  6. discipulo

    discipulo Puritan Board Junior

    May the Lord give us Humbleness and Discernment to do precisely this!

    But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good 1 Thessalonians 5:21 NASB

    Following this thread, my great concern is not what is being examined,
    is what may be thrown away afterwards…

    Hold fast to that which is good.
  7. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I agree....

    I actually thought the following quote was pretty good even though some Presbyterian's won't. Pastor King, could you tell me just exactly where you got this quote from?

  8. ADKing

    ADKing Puritan Board Junior

    Dr. Clark,

    I sense your frustration and I apologize for rhetoric of my own that may be too strong. However, I think your criticisms are unfounded. First of all to assume that us "boys" waited until he was dead to start "beating up on him" is really quite an inflamatory and unnecessary remark. It would have been one thing to have been a contemporary, fellow elder or even a student of Kline's, to have said nothing and then crticize him. However, that is not the situation for most of us here. Most of us never knew Kline, and had no way of interacting with him or his church courts during his life. Certainly we are able to criticize men who are no longer living? Dying does not put one's works beyond evaluation.

    Secondly, I in no way attempt to evaluate Dr Kline's motivations or the intentions of his heart. However, it is a legitimate thing to do to evaluate his own (sometimes rather forceful) claims, isn't it? I am unaware of any "jaundiced attempt" to "smear" a man's reputation. If anything I have written comes across this way, I publicly apologize for that. It seems however, that any criticism of Kline's own words comes across as "jaundiced" and "smearing". Speaking for myself, I would just as soon keep the personal side out of the discussion. I have no intent to unjustly wound his reputation or to offend you personally.

    I am fully willing to give Dr. Kline the benefit of the doubt but so far I have yet to see any plausible explanation for very direct words Kline himself made. Do you yourself have an explanation that takes into account the broader context of his work? That is what several of us would like to interact with. Otherwise it is hard not to conclude that we are interpreting him correctly.


    -----Added 1/14/2009 at 11:16:57 EST-----

    The quote is from Kline's book: God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos pp.102-103
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2009
  9. Dearly Bought

    Dearly Bought Puritan Board Junior

    I'm not saying that the logic he went through to get there is sound or that I agree with the formulation. All I'm arguing is that this doesn't appear to be necessarily contrary to present creedal formulations. There is a substantial difference between "the Father and the Spirit beget the Son" and "the Father begets the Son through the Spirit." It seems to me as though the latter formulation does not necessarily warrant a heresy trial.

    Listen, I'm a six-day creationist and a Westminster sabbatarian. It isn't my immediate instinct to defend Kline (or any other theologian) from every criticism. I think that everyone has admitted by now that this is a pretty obtuse and difficult passage from Kline's works. I am not aware of any pattern in his writings or life that indicates he consistently opposed the Trinitarian theology of the ecumenical creeds. If Kline on creation rubs you the wrong way, fine. Respectfully engage his writings on that topic and show their falsehoods. Let's just not go overboard and try to find every off sentence possible on whatever topic. Heresy is a word that should not be lightly thrown around.
  10. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Well, there are ways of raising this question. Meredith subscribed the Westminster Standards without any crossed fingers. He did it <em>ex animo</em> as a member of our faculty at WSC.

    He also did it at a time when people weren't paying as much attention to the standards. When MGK began his career virtually the only thing that mattered was that one was predestinarian and inerrantist. He was that and much more but systematics at old WTS (See the VanDrunen festschrift for Strimple on this) was not done in the classical way exactly. The emphasis seems (judging by Mr Murray's literary output) to have focused on biblical exegesis such that there was, perhaps, less interaction with the Standards and the tradition than might have been desirable.

    It's also the case that Meredith reacted to what he perceived to be the nutty fringe of the Reformed movement. Because of his exegetical conclusions on Gen 1 he became, in class anyway, a lightning rod for frightened fundamentalists. I saw it with my own eyes. American (not foreign) Students who could barely read English were asking why he didn't agree with their views. He dealt with that for fifty years. It made him cranky and it pushed him toward folks with whom he didn't have to fight every day. The tensions at old WTS also helped to push him to Gordon Conwell, but his heart was always at WTS and WSC. I don't think his years at Gordon Conwell helped to keep him grounded in the standards and in the creeds and the tradition.

    He was a student of Van Til -- he was absolutely devoted to CVT by the way who had a less than traditional vocabulary. If you want problems with the Trinity, "one person" well now that's problematic! Van Til employed the vocab of the idealists to make his points. He didn't speak traditionally either. In a sense MGK did what he was trained to do. He took his WTS education to Dropsie and became an OT scholar.

    He tended to operate in the Biblical-theological world where coining terms was considered a useful way of explaining themes and ideas and concepts, especially when dealing with the sorts of texts the way he did it. In the bib-studies world of the 50s and 60s there were a lot of creative fellows doing BT and Meredith was one of those.

    As to tone, there's a big difference between asking, "Hey, I wonder what he meant by that?" and saying, "Well, we all know that Kline was a big lib and that he was subverting the faith and this is just another instance of that."

    I'm not saying that MGK is beyond criticism. No man is beyond criticism--sola scriptura--but there's a way to do it.

    I realize that what I'm about to say might not win me a lot of friends here, and it might end my relationship with the PB. If that happens, I can live with it. I've got plenty to do, but the truth is that most folk on the PB aren't qualified to criticize a scholar of Meredith's stature. We should should ask ourselves whether we have any business spouting off about the Trinity, Nicea, orthodoxy, or Meredith Kline. Do we really know enough to engage him? Have we actually done more than look at a few paragraphs on a discussion list? Have we ever taken a book or two of his off a shelf and read it carefully?
  11. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    :think: Do you know how many times I've been cast into outer darkness because of the freedom this board allows some here to speak about some dead theonomists who were ministers in good standing at the time of their death?

    It is unfair to paint with broad brush all inquiries in this thread as being uncharitable simply in the asking of them. It is also unfounded that the PB has an "agenda" to trash MGK.

    It seems to me that perhaps some "benefit of the doubt" ought to be applied to inquirers who don't understand how to reconcile his statements with the explanations given. To paint their confusion as a lack of charity or, worse, evil surmising, is a charge that all desire for clarity is sinful. I would prefer you would seek to help others understand by explaining how you reconcile the statements. I cannot continue to allow drive by's where the questioners are maligned en masse. :judge:
  12. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior


    Do you know any other sources where I might go to find out what the course textbooks for exegesis/hermeneutics/homiletics were at WTS in the years 1968-73? I'd lile to tie up a loose end in my book on Bahnsen.
  13. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Folks, I have been looking at Kline's quotes on the PB. As you probably know, I am greatly indebted to Kline in many areas (although I am not skittish about being critical). Yes, it is sometimes as difficult to understand Kline as it is to understand the FV. However, I am not sure that he recasting Trinitarian theology nearly as radically as some have been saying that he is. Kline is starting from this principle: the immanent, or economical Trinity reflects the ontological Trinity. The Holy Spirit was certainly a paternal force in the Incarnation of Jesus. The key sticking point (and where I am not sure that Kline has actually taken a stand) is whether we say this about Jesus' human nature only, or also of His divine nature. Kline certainly seems to be saying it about Jesus' divine nature as well. However, even if he were, that still does not finally prove that he is teaching heresy. Kline is feeling the same pressure that many orthodox Trinitarians have felt concerning the relationship of Son to Spirit, a vastly underdeveloped region of study, in my opinion. Is the Spirit only passive to the Son? Is the Spirit only spirated? If we truly hold to perichoresis, the mutual indwelling of the persons, then the Spirit is not wholly passive in the Trinitarian relationship. Kline then further asks the question as to whether the Spirit, in combination with the Father, has an active relationship to the Son. Is the Holy Spirit wholly unconnected with the eternal generation of the Son? Was/is the Holy Spirit a spectator in this? I cannot believe that He would be, and neither does Kline. We must be very careful before assigning heterodoxy to Kline on this issue, which is not actually dealt with in the confessions at all, and I am not yet convinced that the confessions rule out Kline's position on this. I think more discussion is necessary.
  14. Dearly Bought

    Dearly Bought Puritan Board Junior

    Exactly. I still haven't heard how Kline is contradicting the creeds on this matter.
  15. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Moderation: We don't do blog wars here.

    Leave what other blogs are saying out of this thread.

    For those confused, I deleted references to an external blog post dealing with what is going on here.
  16. fredtgreco

    fredtgreco Vanilla Westminsterian Staff Member

    I (at least) for the record have never accused Kline of being a heretic - and I do not think he is. I am troubled by many aspects of his writings, for example, the small matter of death being a natural part of the creation, not a result of the Fall.

    Some of the language here could (and should) be tempered. It should be placed in context. I would urge those who are going "free for all" after Kline to be more deliberate, patient, and careful in their criticisms and not intentionally think the worst.

    But I dare say that the response - which boils down to a combination of "how dare you" and "you're not smart enough" may be worse than the initial comments, especially when the Church is at issue. Since after all it is the Church (and, in fairness, it must also be said, not the PB) that judges the "Confessionableness" (to coin my own term), and profitableness of theological ruminations. And in that Church, a PhD is not required, only ordination. And the man with 5 PhDs has the same office and authority as the man with no college degree.
  17. Dearly Bought

    Dearly Bought Puritan Board Junior

    I just want to note a few things from my research so far on the subject of the Spirit's involvement in the eternal generation of the Son. Oddly enough, it seems that some Protestant Reformed theologians might be amenable to a formulation such as "the Father begets the Son in the Spirit." See this chapter from David Engelsma's Trinity and Covenant. He, and apparently Hoeksema, want to pick up on Augustine's divine love analogy. See footnote 29 for language that would suggest the above formulation: "The Father begets with infinite love. The Son is begotten in infinite love."

    Again, not necessarily advocating these views, just pointing out the breadth of the discussion in the confessional Reformed community.
  18. Grafted In

    Grafted In Puritan Board Freshman

    Wow! I think that you missed my point. I must not have been as clear as I should have been.

    I would heartily approve of anyone calling into question or critiquing the theological conclusions of any man. I do not think that any one should tolerate attacks on the confessions. You had to read all of that into my post.

    My point is that some people are so ready for the battle that they do not take the time to distinguish between who the enemy is and who is well within their own camp but does not march lockstep on every matter with them. This "isn't helpful" and will actually discredit the ones who engage in such "friendly fire."

    I agree that doctrine does influence lives and that is why I believe that we should contend for the faith. I do not remember saying that it doesn't. We should contend with all of our might!

    I am sorry that you felt mocked by the MP's Holy Grail post. I can see how you would think that I was comparing some people to the unsophisticated village folk in the clip (I do hope that you watched it and got a good laugh) and for that I am sorry. The correlation that I saw between the film and the current thread is in that (just like the film makers who perceive religious persons to be unsophisticated) when we as Christians see something that we perceive to be contrary to what we believe we often become judge, jury and executioner at the same instance.

    Please accept my apology for the offense that I have created by my post!:oops:
  19. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    This thread has become very fast-paced, and is in some danger of derailing. So I am going to ignore what I think is irrelevant to me and to the concern of the thread: whether Meredith Kline's views are out of accord with the Westminster Standards. For discussions on charity, propriety, etc., there are threads that could be resuscitated or one can always start a new thread in the appropriate forum.

    I believe so far the defenses of Professor Kline with regard to the quoted statements pertaining to the doctrine of the Trinity (which is that part of the topic in which I am most interested) can be categorized as follows:
    1. Palliations for inadequate language.
    2. Mention of other theologians who may have had similar ideas.
    3. The argument that his ideas don't have to do with the ontological Trinity.
    4. The idea that his words aren't unconfessional because they speak to something not addressed by the confession.

    1 & 2 are, I think, strictly irrelevant: 1 because the point at issue is not his skill as a communicator, but the content of his thought; 2 because unless the ideas of those other theologians were embodied in or implied by the Westminster Standards they don't function to clarify the harmony or lack thereof of Professor Kline's views with those adopted by the Assembly.
    I think Fred has laid 3 to rest in a rather definitive manner. That he speaks of adding to the creed, that he wants to argue from the economic to eternal relations, shows that he conceived of his ideas as bearing upon the ontological Trinity.
    Which leaves #4. Obviously we are in deep waters both procedurally and conceptually. But the question I asked earlier is valid, and in order to prove that Professor Kline's views are merely extraconfessional an answer should be attempted: is the order of the Persons of the Trinity a confessional matter?
    The WCF reflects other Christian creeds in putting the Father first, the Son second, and the Spirit third. Are we free to tinker with this ordering (or to suggest that the ordinal numbers do not at all times apply to the same Person)?
  20. Dearly Bought

    Dearly Bought Puritan Board Junior

    I don't see anything in the passage from Kline that suggests he wants to "tinker with the ordering" in which the persons of the Trinity are addressed in the creeds regarding to their eternal immanent relations. He is still talking about an event in redemptive history when he states "in this process [my emphasis] the Spirit is the second person and the Son the third." His whole idea surely is that these economic relations have bearing upon the immanent Trinitarian relations. However, as I've tried to already show, he isn't suggesting an exact correlation.

    Isn't it reasonable to assume that Kline is suggesting a modification of the eternal generation clause something along the lines of "the Father begets the Son through the Spirit"?
  21. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Bryan, I've granted that this seems very likely to be the modification Professor Kline was suggesting. I don't think changing "and" to "through" removes all difficulties, but that hasn't been the question. But here is the point: if that process wherein the Spirit is 2nd and the Son 3rd has a reflection in the immanent relations, then at some point in the immanent relations, either the Son is not 2nd, as all Christian history seems to understand, or He can be 2nd at one point and 3rd at another.

    When the EO expressed a willingness to accept "and through the Son" as a compromise on the filioque controversy, it was a form of words which still maintained the order of relationship. What conceivable modification to the clause about the Son's generation leaves that order similarly undisturbed?
  22. Dearly Bought

    Dearly Bought Puritan Board Junior

    I don't know that this necessarily follows. Like I said, the analogy doesn't have to correlate exactly. Kline doesn't suggest that we call the Spirit a "2nd person" in some manner in interTrinitarian immanent relations.
  23. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    But Bryan, if it doesn't necessarily follow, what does? Exactly what is being suggested? You have, condensing for clarity:
    1. In this process the Son is the 3rd Person.
    2. This process reflects immanent relations.
    3. Therefore, ____________________________________?
  24. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The question assumes a temporal generation and is therefore irrelevant. It is a common mistake to draw an analogy between the economical and ontological without removing the temporal aspects to apply to the eternal reality. That seems to be the mistake which MGK has fallen into in this instance.

    One needs to ascertain what MGK meant by "generating;" did he take it to mean that the Father "communicates his whole essence?" If not, what he says about the Holy Spirit's role is redundant.

    It seems that what MGK was really examining is "enupostatoi" (one in the other), not personal properties per se, and so a categorical error is being made. Further, enupostatoi does not remove the ontological order. As Beza teaches, "Yet is the Son more properly said to be in the father, than the father in the son, by reason of the dignity as it were, of the Fatherhood." The same order must apply to the relations of Father and Son to the Holy Spirit. This is what MGK does not appear to make provision for.

    For what it's worth, I agree with Dr. Clark that MGK was engaging in exegetical theology (the process of revelation) but is being examined according to dogmatic categories (the product of revelation) -- a standard which would condemn most exegetes if applied to their work. Ironically, John Murray receives the same criticisms for his exegetical insights into the Adamic administration, but no one seems to think twice about an improper standard being applied to him.

    OTOH, I can't help but lament with others that MGK was far too speculative in his exegetical work.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2009
  25. Dearly Bought

    Dearly Bought Puritan Board Junior

    The problem is that Kline doesn't explicitly state the aspects of the redemptive historical example that shed the most light on the immanent Trinitarian relations. All we really know for certain is that Kline thought the Spirit should be recognized as active in some way in the eternal generation of the Son. As far as I know, this lies outside the scope of present confessional formulations but is not necessarily contrary to them (depending upon the form it takes).
  26. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Whichever aspect of that historical process he has in mind, it clearly relates to the Spirit's "fathering function", in such a way that something similar to the filioque ought to be added to the creed. I just don't see how the answer is far to seek.
  27. Dearly Bought

    Dearly Bought Puritan Board Junior

    If we agree that the phrasing is most probably "the Father begets the Son through the Spirit", then we ought to agree that similar doesn't mean a one-to-one transfer of every aspect of the redemptive historical process. Identical language to the filioque at this point ("the Father and the Spirit beget the Son") surely would be contrary to the ecumenical creeds (specifically the Athanasian). The former formulation doesn't seem to be.

    We'll probably have to ultimately agree to disagree on what we think Kline really meant. I'll say again that it wasn't the best of his work, but I don't think it was heresy. I appreciate the interaction and the willingness to discuss the matter at the level of ideas.

    In Christ,
  28. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    First point: the whole point of my including the / in the was/is phraseology was precisely to avoid the implication of temporal generation. Apparently, that I might have purposely avoided this didn't occur to you. Therefore, my question no more assumes temporal generation than the question of whether the Father was/is involved or not in generating the Son assumes a temporal generation. So, the question is by no means irrelevant. So, to rephrase the question, perhaps: in eternity, in the eternal begetting of the Son, is the Holy Spirit a spectator? Is He uninvolved? I cannot answer no to this. Of course, the exact nature of said involvement is open to discussion.

    Second point: It is a legitimate question to ask if the intra-Trinitarian personal properties are actions. We do tend to use verbs when describing begetting, processing, being begotten (although it is understood that God does not become). If they are actions, and not just a description of ontology, then the actions are works ad intra. And while begetting the Son is properly the property/work of the Father, all ad intra properties/works at least involve the other members of the Trinity. The Father would not be a Father to the Son without the Son. Describing the Holy Spirit's place in the Father/Son relation is not easy, but I believe that we must make an effort.
  29. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    I'm not so sure: I wonder whether we have the necessary data in Scripture from which may find any more details of what the Holy Spirit's "place" in the Father/Son relationship is. This may be one of the secret things (Deut. 29:29) we are not meant to know. Not everything that piques our curiosity is essential to our salvation.
  30. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Excellent point. After all, many of our creedal formulations about the Godhead have many more negative boundaries to allow the few positive statements to receive room for expression without the risk of running into a ditch.
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