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I’m Still Here, Too

The most recent issue of Frontline Magazine is apparently getting a bit of buzz. I don’t subscribe, but through friends I’m getting caught up. It appears that the Fall 2016 issue, “Convergence,” caused a stir with how it treated the younger generation who grew up in fundamental Baptist churches. As a sort of response, Mark Ward was given the opportunity to edit the Spring issue, composed entirely of articles written by representatives of that younger generation who have chosen to “stay in” what Mark calls the “the BJU-Northland-Maranatha-Detroit-Central-IBC-Wilds-Faith-FBFI portion” of fundamentlism.

Most of the articles are available only to subscribers (you can read previews of the articles here), but Mark’s article is available for free online, titled, “Why I’m Still Here.” Mark lists four primary reasons he’s willing to call himself a “fundamentalist”:

  1. honoring my father(s) and mother(s).
  2. biblicism.
  3. personal holiness.
  4. traditional worship.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mark’s reasoning. His experience growing up and being educated in fundamentalist institutions is very similar to mine. I always found claims that fundamentalists were harsh legalists odd–the church I grew up in, my family, and the fundamentalist university I attended were all wonderful experiences for which I am deeply thankful. The fundamental Baptist churches in which I’ve served valued doctrine, expositional preaching, personal holiness, and traditional worship. My closest friends are pastors in self-identifying fundamentalist churches and professors in institutions historically identified as fundamentalist.

And, like Mark, I happily affirm: I am a fundamentalist.

However, as important as the four values Mark lists are, I do not believe they describe the core of fundamentalism. The core of fundamentalism results in the four values Mark lists, but the list itself is not the core.

The central idea of fundamentalism lies its recognition of both the boundary and center of Christian unity and cooperation. Fundamentalism asserts that the boundary of Christian fellowship is the gospel; no Christian cooperation can exist with those who do not affirm the gospel. Contrary to the popular movements in evangelicalism today, the gospel is not the center of Christian unity; the gospel is the boundary of Christian unity.

Matt Recker and The Gospel Coalition: Part Two

But fundamentalism also affirms that within that gospel boundary, unity among Christians is dependent upon the degree of agreement in matters that are secondary to the gospel but that are important nonetheless. The Christian faith is more than just the gospel—it is the whole council of God. These other matters like how we approach culture, worship philosophy, hermeneutics, eschatology, and so much more are secondary to the gospel–they’re not the boundary–but they are important and affect the degree to which we can fellowship and cooperate with other Christians. And many of these so-called “secondary issues” are, indeed, “gospel issues” because they impact our understanding, response, propagation, and defense of the gospel.

This was the genius of the idea of fundamentalism. Beyond refusing to recognize as Christian those who do not believe the gospel, fundamentalism asserts that cooperation among Christians will be dependent upon the level to which Christians agree in important matters of doctrine and practice, and this will vary based on the kind of cooperation. For example, I might be able to stand side-by-side with a conservative Presbyterian in order to preach the gospel, but I would not be able to plant a church with him given our disagreement regarding church polity and baptism, among other things. I may be able to teach in an educational institution where there exists considerable diversity in a number of areas that I believe to be extremely important, but I would not be able to join a church with the same spread of divergent views. Fundamentalists have perhaps notoriously made too big a deal of some issues and too little of others, but this is the fault of fallible people, not the underlying conviction that all biblical truth matters and affects unity to one degree or another.

The Rise and Fall of Christendom

This is why I happily identify with the idea of fundamentalism. I believe that while the gospel is of first importance, the whole counsel of God is also important. I believe that the four values Mark lists (among others) are important enough to affect cooperation at various levels. I believe they should be defended, articulated, and propagated. I co-authored a book with a central goal of articulating this very understanding of the gospel, the whole counsel of God, and cooperation among Christians, and my other three books, my articles, and my teaching are all dedicated to defending the very values Mark cites as central to fundamentalism.

Yet this leads to a bit of tension and irony reflected in Mark’s article. He identifies four values that he finds centrally important and claims that “the only place I know of where I can reliably get and promote all four things I value is within the institutions of self-described fundamentalism.”

The problem with this sentiment, however, is that what we have seen in institutional Fundamentalism over the last ten years is that in the face of diminishing numbers, churches, colleges, and seminaries are intentionally abandoning these very values, believing that this will make them more marketable. Yet even purely from a marketing perspective, they are eliminating the only thing that distinguishes them from conservative evangelical churches and institutions of higher learning. They are getting rid of exactly the qualities that even conservative evangelicals like John Piper and Rick Phillips recognize as the unique contributions of fundamentalism. The problem is that the conservative evangelical institutions have a considerable head start in terms of constituency, money, and name recognition; why, if the traditionally fundamentalist institutions give up the core ideas of fundamentalism, would anyone choose them over larger and more prestigious evangelical ones? The answer is, they wouldn’t; there is a reason fundamentalist churches and schools who have distanced themselves from cultural conservatism, traditional worship, and standards of personal holiness, for example, have closed more quickly than others.1 There are undoubtedly many other factors contributing to the shrinking of fundamentalist institutions, but I would humbly suggest that getting rid of the one thing that has distinguished fundamentalist institutions from their conservative evangelical counterparts is not the answer.

Understanding the Evangelical Theological Society

This, then, leads to the question, what would it mean to “stay in” fundamentalism? How do I know if I’m “still here”? If I am part of a historically fundamentalist institution that abandons the values of fundamentalism, am I still “in”? If I am part of an institution that has not historically identified as fundamentalist but I embrace, affirm, and propagate the ideas and values of fundamentalism, and I still “in”?

For my part, since I believe fundamentalism is a set of ideas, not necessarily a group of connected institutions, and I enthusiastically affirm and articulate those ideas, I’m still here.

The question is, will institutions that have historically affirmed the ideas of fundamentalism stay, too? I certainly hope so.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.


  1. Note: This is certainly not true in every case; but I would submit that it is what is happening in a lot of cases. []

28 Responses to I’m Still Here, Too

  1. Not asking in a negative way, why are you still connected with the Southern Batista Convention?

  2. See this statement in the article above: “I may be able to teach in an educational institution where there exists considerable diversity in a number of areas that I believe to be extremely important, but I would not be able to join a church with the same spread of divergent views.”

  3. I hope so too, Scott. I earnestly pray so. Good thoughts. The ideas/values exist prior to and are more important than the institutions. Each of us must make a judgment call based on our knowledge and experience within available institutions. We are, in Framean terms, 1)persons applying the same 2) norms to 3) a situation that is hard to parse right now. Things are in flux.

  4. Agreed. Thanks again for your article. I praise the Lord for the individuals and institutions that have shaped me in similar ways as your story.

  5. Scott,

    I believe we do great disservice to the gospel itself when we isolate it as the boundary. God is seeking for true worshipers. Now false worshipers, who believe the fundamentals of the gospel, are given fellowship. This fools people about salvation. It also results in God not getting what He saves us for, worship.

    If God doesn’t have our affections, does He have us? If we can’t know this anyway, then why does it matter. By not dividing on this as a gospel matter, we are fooling people about their own salvation. The love of the Father is not in them.

    It seems that the idea of fundamentalism requires people to be allowed to be fooled. It isn’t a gospel issue, so those people are OK. They are still in the fold.

  6. That’s not at all what I’m saying. I’m saying the exact opposite.

    When the gospel is considered the center of Christian fellowship, then nothing else really matters or affects fellowship; as long as we agree on the gospel, then we’re OK.

    But if the gospel is the boundary, and the center of Christian unity is THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD, then everything matters–everything is a gospel issue to one degree or another.

    But there are degrees, and where those degrees fall on the spectrum within the boundary affects to what degree they will affect fellowship on various levels.

    And I agree completely with you: when it comes to worship and the affection, these are absolutely central things; not much fellowship can occur without agreement in these areas.

    This is exactly what I argued in my talk last year at the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory:

    I blogged about it here:

  7. Read and appreciated both articles. My wife and my experiences mirror yours, and we find ourselves drawn to and believing in the same core values. It may not be where everyone lands, but there is a place for fundamental values and principles in the evangelical church landscape today. Thanks Scott & Mark!

  8. Scott,
    I mostly agree with what you’ve said here, but I would like to challenge you on one semantic. You rightly picture important Biblical doctrines other than gospel boundary as impacting to varying degrees our cooperation with those with whom we disagree. Yet, I think it is a trap within evangelicalism today to use the terms primary and secondary with regard to importance. This is their language and it contributes to the wrong-headed idea that as long as we agree on the central gospel, these secondary matters are just the machinations of fallible men who can’t possibly regard their view as the ‘right’ or Biblical view with any vehemence or certainty.
    Certainly, the Gospel is primary in the sense that Christ is primary and it is the revelation of His work without which a man misses heaven, but the Scriptures don’t teach other doctrines as if they are of secondary importance. Paul for instance doesn’t give caveats to his teachings on issues like baptism or communion by saying, “now I know there are other good apostles out there that take a different view of this” or “now I realize this issue is controversial, and you’re each entitled to your own opinion”.
    On the contrary, he teaches all doctrine as God’s truth to be believed, obeyed and cherished.
    I admit that we are less adamant on teachings that are more difficult to understand or discern, but the fault lies with us and not with God or His word. I shudder when I hear someone say, “well the Bible isn’t clear on this issue” or “this is a paradox” as if God is either conflicted in His mind or a poor communicator.

    I know I’m ranting and it’s certainly not directed at Scott. I just wish we could rid ourselves of this “secondary issue” language that continues to lead people to believe that as long as they get the Gospel right, the other stuff will take care of itself in heaven and any attempt to be dogmatic about it now is just divisive, judgemental, proud and unloving.

  9. “But if the gospel is the boundary, and the center of Christian unity is THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD, then everything matters–everything is a gospel issue to one degree or another.

    But there are degrees, and where those degrees fall on the spectrum within the boundary affects to what degree they will affect fellowship on various levels.”

    These comments are spot on. In this view, the terms primary and secondary have no value because we are talking about degrees of certainty or cooperation not merely two lists – Really important stuff (Primary) and Less important stuff (Secondary).

  10. I do want to understand you and properly represent you.

    If the boundary alone represents the gospel, how is worship, which falls inside the boundary, not therefore distinguishing someone as believer or unbeliever, also a gospel issue?

    I’m quite sure that most of the people you’d like to persuade will be fine with whatever worship as long as it isn’t a gospel distinction.

    You are very, very strong, which I appreciate.

  11. Matt, thanks for the comments!

    Billy and Kent. I’m with you, really, but understanding the gospel as boundary and the whole council of God as central really is the way forward. Those who consider the gospel as central are those who end up minimizing everything else.

    I also do appreciate your desire, Billy, to get rid of the primary and secondary language.

    But, in reality, there is a difference between the core doctrines of the gospel (Christ died for our sins, was buried, arose, and was seen) and other fundamental, important, essential matters of Christianity.

    Here’s what I mean: As a Baptist, I can recognize a gospel-affirming Presbyterian as a Christian; he’s inside the boundary. But, of course, I consider him, at one level, a disobedient Christian, and our disagreements in important areas of the whole council of God limit our cooperation.

    The same is true for those who worship in ways I believe to be vulgar and trivial. If they affirm the gospel, I call them Christians, but I believe they are wrong. And actually, I believe matters of the affections and worship are even closer to the center of Christian unity than even something like mode of baptism.

    Give a listen to my CCGG talk I posted above. I think you’ll appreciate what I had to say there.

    This is fruitful conversation; thanks for engaging in it.

  12. At the risk of beating the dead horse . . .

    I did read the series of blog posts and am in substantial agreement with them. I also agree with everything you said in the most recent comment, including the characterization of “a disobedient Christian”, with the exception that I might rank (by degrees) baptism and worship slightly differently than you. I’m seeking to convey the following:

    You are right when you said, “Those who consider the gospel as central are those who end up minimizing everything else.” This is a fundamental error within New Evangelicalism. Unfortunately, when you use the terms primary and secondary, you are giving up ground that lies beneath your position by communicating that the gospel is primary and the everything else is secondary – two categories. Basically, when you use their language, it hinders them and others from recognizing the distinction.

    I just think it would be helpful for conservatives to ditch the new evangelical language in the terms primary and secondary and either speak of degrees of cooperation based on Biblical adherence to God’s truth OR just use the phrases the Gospel and the whole counsel of God, as you have done above.

    Again, I really appreciate the work you’ve done here. I’m simply trying to buff a little polish into a dull spot I see in the argument – but maybe it’s just me.

  13. Beat away, Billy! I appreciate the dialogue.

    I’m with you. I don’t like the sentiments typically embedded in the word, “secondary,” either. You may be right that we need to get rid of it altogether.

  14. Scott,

    The first act of worship, as I see it scripturally, is the offering by faith of one’s own soul for restoration or cleansing. That is repentance, self-denial, etc. Not doing that is remaining in idolatry. If someone did not deny self, as seen in his self-gratifying “worship,” he cannot come to Jesus. If any man come after Him, he must deny himself. They are also receiving a different Jesus, a goody-meister of sorts, who exists to make them feel good. They like him to worship, because they still get what they want, essentially to feel like they want. If not, they wouldn’t even receive Him. These are the terms of these evangelical churches, and they know it. The Jesus they offer is inalienably tied to what people demand to keep for themselves. As a result, they are fooled. This is a major basis of apostasy as I see it.

    They don’t love God. They love themselves. Their love for God is sentimentalism. Yet, they think they love God and they are given credit for loving him by placing them within the boundary. If they do love God, then none of what we’re talking about matters anyway. It does matter. It does mean something.

    I don’t see allowable diverse doctrine, practice, and affection in scripture. The boundary is the truth. Is it possible those diverging are saved? Possible, yes. But Jesus said, let them be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. In John 13-16, in marking who was a saved person, again and again in that pivotal passage, it was those who loved Jesus, who kept all of His sayings.

    We don’t have to run around saying Presbyterians aren’t saved, but we can’t call infant sprinkling obedience. And how does scripture deal with perpetual disobedience? Does it say what you are saying about it? I can’t find it anywhere.

    I’m open to your paradigm, Scott. It seems like it is just attempting to keep together a coalition, make us bigger. It in fact results in less purity and more false worship. As long as you are still in the saved club, you are, well, safe. Then it becomes all about the degree of good Christian you are, which is not how the Bible reads.

    I understand there are less spiritually mature people, but the standard is still complete obedience. You say that you know Him, but if you worship Him falsely, what? You are a less good Christian that I might not have the same degree of fellowship.

  15. Scott, I agree with most of what you say, but I think your “gospel at the boundary, whole counsel at the center” is flawed thinking and causes the confusion and push-back you are getting.

    The gospel is central, but it alone doesn’t define the boundaries of fellowship. The other doctrines and practices do. The whole conservative evangelical ethos is built on the notion that the gospel is the boundary – and many critical things outside that boundary are let slide.

    So I agree with most of what you say, but I think you are stating your paradigm backwards.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  16. Don, what evangelicals have you heard talking about the gospel as the boundary of Christian fellowship? It’s all “gospel-centered” this and “gospel-centered” that, and as long as we’re “Together for the Gospel,” then nothing else really matters.

    For fundamentalists, traditionally the gospel has been the boundary–no one outside that boundary may be considered a Christian. This was the heart of the fundamentalist/New Evangelical debate.

    Then within that larger boundary, there are several other boundaries dependent upon the kind of fellowship in question. Church membership is probably the smallest circle, and I would put something like worship in that circle. Unless we can agree on worship (and lots of other important doctrines), we cannot fellowship at that level.

  17. Scott, my answer will require more than I can give in this space, I’m thinking I’ll write an article of my own on it.

    But briefly a few points:
    1. Yes, you’re right the CEs are saying “gospel-centered” and it is true that they are centered on the gospel and nothing else matters.

    2. However, I believe you are incorrect to say that the gospel is the boundary for Christian fellowship. The gospel is where Christian fellowship begins, to be sure. There is no fellowship between the Christian and the Liberal (see Machen).

    3. But I am centered in the gospel with Charismatic brothers, for example, and I can appreciate the genuineness of their Christianity. (Noting that not all Charismatics are Christians.) But there really is no ministry partnership I can have with a Charismatic, not because of gospel issues but because of important issues beyond the center of the gospel. With them it is their weakness on inspiration and ongoing revelation (despite the protestations of Grudem et al) that precludes fellowship.

    I believe a man can be saved and at the same time have a defective view of inspiration. I can’t work with that guy, though. My boundary is over the important doctrine of inspiration. To be sure, there is a connection with the gospel, but it isn’t direct, and as I say, a man can be saved without a proper doctrine of inspiration.

    So the boundaries are much closer to the “Whole Counsel” and the center is the gospel.

    I hope that makes some sense. I’ll work on this though, and expand it for an article of my own. I do appreciate a lot of what you are saying here, however. Just think you aren’t thinking of this one point correctly.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  18. Scott,

    Maybe you just gave up on me, because I’m a lost cause, but is there is a scriptural basis why I’m wrong. I understand why fundamentalists functioned the way they did, but is it scriptural? It does get down to the nature of truth. What can we know? Why? I’m quite sure that evangelicals don’t think we know what God wants in worship. If we can’t know, then how can we worship Him? If we can’t know worship, how can we know salvation?

    I recognize that Kevin Bauder would call this everythingism, which as a term makes it sound like a loser. But putting that aside, why isn’t it true? It’s what I see in scripture.

    Abel needed to learn to agree to disagree.

  19. Perhaps I will add an additional thought for clarity sake. The Gospel is so important, vital and central that I don’t wish to demean it by saying it’s the boundary and not the center. I think some mishear this argument as a minimizing of the gospel, but I at least am not saying the Gospel is not the center of God’s revelation. Rather, when it comes to fellowship or partnership in the Gospel, it must be the boundary or else there is no fellowship. For this reason, perhaps we should also say that the Gospel is central to the whole counsel of God AND it is the boundary of our fellowship.

  20. If we are going to say that all doctrine, practice and affections are equally essential, then the metaphor of boundary is no longer useful. We then need a metaphor such as an archery target, where, only a bulls-eye strike counts as a Christian arrow, all others are false and fail.
    When Christ Himself spoke of the ‘weightier matters of the Law’ or singled out one commandment as the first and greatest, He was clearly showing a hierarchy of importance within Christian doctrine. “Lesser” importance does not mean “of little importance”, it simply recognizes that some truth is fundamental to the Gospel, while other truth is not.
    This also helps us recognize that some errors are catastrophic to the faith, some are systemic and skew much of the faith, some are isolated with isolated effects, and some errors will have negligible effects.

  21. Fundamental to the Gospel or the faith? You are using two different terms. Are they identical? I say no, in keeping with my comments above.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  22. Fundamental to the Gospel, though the Gospel is a subset of the faith (all of Christianity), so what is a fundamental error regarding the Gospel is necessarily a catastrophic error to the faith. However, I agree these are separate ideas. Since the faith comprehends the whole counsel of God, the idea does not work equally in reverse; that is, a systemic error in the faith (such as infant baptism), does not necessarily destroy the Gospel.
    There are articulations of that error that do: sacerdotalism, baptismal regeneration, forms of Federal Vision, or the worst articulations of sacramentalism. But not all articulations of infant baptism deny the 5 solas, or justification by faith, or any of the fundamental doctrines.
    The same could be said of certain articulations of Calvinism, Arminianism, Lordship Salvation, Free Grace Salvation, Revivalism etc. These need not be catastrophic to the faith, but we have to wait to hear how the proponent articulates them, to know if they are. This by itself shows us that not all truth occupies the same level or urgency when it comes to its defence.

  23. Is it perhaps appropriate to compare this with how we think about sin. There is certainly a distinction made between the seriousness and disqualifying effects of certain sins. And yet, God regards all sin with hatred and even the most seemingly insignificant shortfall from his revealed will sends men to hell. I certainly would not say there are primary and secondary sins, but I would say that an ultimate rejection of God is the greatest sin of all. There is a sense in which degrees of sin are useful and how we interact in terms of overlooking versus church discipline or admonishment versus reproof. But, we can never say with any biblical warrant that a particular sin is insignificant or unimportant. I see some parallels here and some faults – just a thought.

  24. Hi David and thanks for chiming in at the expense of that assumed a fool’s errand,

    I appreciate your referencing scripture for a point. Related to your metaphor, that’s scriptural because doctrinal and practical deviation is missing the mark. You’ve heard “close doesn’t count.”

    “Weightier matters,” the Greek word barus, are harder, more difficult, like carrying a heavier weight versus a light weight. People can tithe of little herbs because it’s easier to keep, since they are depending on themselves, their own righteousness. Ranking the doctrines was the practice of the Pharisees.

    Loving God is the first commandment. It is first in priority, first in order, the first table of the law. Jesus said the second was “like,” homoios, of the same nature. The same. He wasn’t ranking doctrines. He said they were the same, so it had to be first in order, so fundamental or foundational to the other. What I’m writing is consistent with the behavior of God in scripture. He killed Nadab and Abihu for messing with the recipe for the altar of incense.

    In our context, David, we are talking about people who want to render worship as neutral, of no or little effect, and they use this teaching of ranking doctrines to do it. Are we not stepping into a trap, like one the Pharisees themselves were setting?


  25. Kent,

    It’s true that sin is missing the mark. It’s just that not every error is sin. An error may not always be wilful disobedience, so to lump them together is to risk failing any sort of nuance in our treatment of people. Paul certainly taught that different folks require different strokes – 1 Thes 5:14.

    But I do differ on what Christ was doing in answering the scribe’s question. He wasn’t answering which commandment comes first chronologically, in which case His answer would have been wrong. He was answering which is the most important of all. Indeed, the response of the scribe to Christ’s answer, which Jesus commended, was that the first commandment, when performed, would perform all of the Law.
    When saying the second command was like unto it, the meaning is that it is likewise a commandment of love, not that it is equal in importance. If Jesus did not see difference in importance in commandments, surely He could have answered by rebuking the question, and telling the scribe that no commandment outranked another.

  26. David,

    I agree that errors are not sin. I don’t know how that helps your point though, because we are talking about false doctrine and practice. Some people are weak, simple, and unruly, but that doesn’t change the rules, just how we treat the participants.

    The scribes ranked the laws to distinguish what was most important, since it was impossible to keep all of them. They were preparing not to keep some of them by ranking them. Jesus wasn’t falling prey to this ritual by accommodating it. He was saying the opposite. The whole Old Testament was suspended from those two commandments. In essence, stop ranking the laws. Do them all. Start with loving God and then love your neighbor.

    Again, Jesus said this to his disciples in that pivotal passage in John 15, where He said they were His friends if they did whatever He said. Those who remain with Him unlike Judas, His Words will remain in them, all of them, and His commandment is to love one another. You can’t love Him without keeping His commandments, and loving Him, His commandment, is loving one another.

    To murder is to hang God in effigy. The one not forgiving will not be forgiven. The one unmerciful will not obtain mercy.

    Very commonly Jesus didn’t rebuke, but put on the double reverse and trapped them in their own trap. “You want me to rank. I’ll rank.” He’s not teaching them to rank. He’s foiling their ranking.

    As you know, the ranking, both by the scribes and by today’s left winged legalists, is to reduce the laws to what they will keep. This excuses a lot of missing the mark.

  27. David, yes, I agree with this, and I think it makes my point a bit better than I did above:

    “Fundamental to the Gospel, though the Gospel is a subset of the faith (all of Christianity), so what is a fundamental error regarding the Gospel is necessarily a catastrophic error to the faith. However, I agree these are separate ideas. Since the faith comprehends the whole counsel of God, the idea does not work equally in reverse; that is, a systemic error in the faith (such as infant baptism), does not necessarily destroy the Gospel.”

    We are called to contend for the faith, not the gospel, so the gospel is not the boundary, the faith is. Some errors in the faith are so egregious they limit or preclude fellowship, without branding the other as Not A Christian. Errors of the gospel, however, do bring that branding.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

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