Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
June 27, 2010
Philosophical Foolishness – The Errors of Philosophical Theology
This morning we come to the last sermon in this series in which I have been expanding on the apostle Peter’s warnings about false teachers and mockers. Over the last couple of months we have covered the extreme dangers that arise from religions based in demonic revelations, eastern mysticism and man-made theologies (See: Demonic Deception, Experts in Enigmas, and Cultic Oppression). All these leave a person condemned by God because they are contrary to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have also warned about religions based in traditions, experience, marketing and post-modern thought. (See: Religions of My Fathers, Spiritual Confusion, Tickets to Heaven and What’s Emerging?. The dangers arising from these theologies range from minor to deadly. Some are doctrinal aberrations that can leave their followers spiritually confused and immature. Others pervert the gospel leaving their followers with a false hope in the wrong Jesus and a works based righteousness.
This morning I want to conclude this series by examining some of the foolishness that arises from the various secular philosophies including rationalism, secularism and liberalism. All of them rely on the foundation that can be summed up in the idea that man is smarter than God.
The Fool – Psalm 14
There are many warnings in the Bible about worldly philosophies, but I want to begin with the strongest warning about the most extreme of the secular philosophies. Turn to Psalm 14.
The importance of this Psalm is seen in that the first three verses are quoted by Paul in Romans 3:10-12 in his summary of the state of man apart from God. David writes:
(For the choir director. [A Psalm] of David.) The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. 2 The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.
4 Do all the workers of wickedness not know, Who eat up my people [as] they eat bread, [And] do not call upon the Lord? 5 There they are in great dread, For God is with the righteous generation. 6 You would put to shame the counsel of the afflicted, But the Lord is his refuge.
7 Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores His captive people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad. Psalm 14:1 (NASB)
That is the Biblical definition of a fool. The problem is that it fits everyone for there are three types of atheists. There are those that are proud, arrogant and defiant such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris (thankfully, no relation of mine). They are vocal in their war against God believing that it is dangerous to believe in God, especially the God of the Bible, and therefore atheism is the only option. There are also those that believe there is no God, but they are not willing to be so vocal about it. Then there is everyone else who are practical atheists. They may acknowledge the existence of God, but that makes no difference in how they live their life. That is why David here and Paul in his quote of it in Romans 3 points out the consequences that arise out of this denial of God. There are none who understand or seek God. All have turned aside and become corrupt. There are none who do good, not even one. That is why Paul concludes in Romans 3:23 that all sin and are falling short of the glory of God.
Before I explain further about the foolishness of atheism and the philosophies that flow from it, I want to stress this fact that no man is saved from his sin by either his own work or even his own desire for it. Again, as the text states, none do good; none understand or seek after God; all have turned aside and become corrupt. This is important to understand because it moves salvation back into the spiritual realm in which God works instead of the gospel being just another competing idea in the market place of human ideas.
While it is important to present well reasoned arguments to the unsaved, you cannot argue anyone into the kingdom God. 1 Corinthians 2:12 is clear that “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” You cannot entice someone into becoming a follower of Jesus Christ because man loves his sin and judges it stupid to give up the enjoyment of that sin up in order to live a life of self sacrifice in being a disciple of Jesus. That is why the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22 became grieved and turned away from Jesus. He was the living example of what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:19-24 that a man’s heart would be where his treasure is, and no man can serve two masters. He was not willing to give up his earthly treasures to gain the heavenly treasures of following Jesus.
You also cannot frighten someone into salvation. Certainly we must warn people of God’s condemnation of sin, and that will cause fear, but unless that is fear of the Lord instead of fear of hell, they will strive to develop some system by which they can escape hell by their own means. While man may fear eternal damnation, it is even more frightening for the non-believer to place hope for an eternal destiny that is good in the same God that is condemning them for their sin. They feel more confident if they are in someway guaranteed their destiny by means which they can control.
John 1:12-13 states, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” You cannot be saved from your sins and become a genuine seeker of God and follower of Jesus Christ by your genealogy, heritage, self desire, or the desire and work of other people. The only one that can save you from sin is God Himself who by His patience and longsuffering does not bring upon us quickly our just punishment for sin, and by His grace draws people to Jesus (John 6:44) sending the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sin that they might repent (John 16:8-9), be regenerated and renewed (Titus 3:5) that they may have faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is why prayer is so critical to evangelism. While it is good and necessary to learn to proclaim the gospel and answer people’s arguments, it is even more important that we pray for God to have mercy on their souls, convict them of sin and draw them to Jesus. The gospel of Jesus Christ is divine revelation, so do not let your presentation of it make it appear to be just another man made philosophical worldview.
Let us go back to discuss the atheist. Scriptures are very clear that such a person is a fool, and when such a person is proud and arrogant about it there is little hope for their soul. Proverbs 1:7 tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:22 adds, “How long, O naive ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, And fools hate knowledge?” Proverbs 12:15 adds, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” How can such a person be helped when they have already made their decision and do not want to be confused by the facts?
At the heart of arrogant and proud atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens is the belief that they themselves are the final arbitrators of truth. There is a huge difference between someone stating that based on the evidence they have examined they do not believe there is a god and stating that God does not exist. A person making such a claim would have to have all knowledge in order to exclude the possibility of the thing existing apart from the evidence they have examined.
There are a lot of animals that can now be easily looked up in zoological books that prior to the 19th and 20th centuries were only
considered to be wild stories of “primitive” people. This was the bias of European science which often denied the existence of things until one of their own could “discover” it. An example of such a case is the Okapi, which looks like a cross between a short necked giraffe, a horse and a zebra, found in the jungles of the Congo in central Africa. Sir Harry Johnston had heard stories about this strange looking creature as a child, and while in Africa in 1901 he was given a skin of the creature which was sent to the British Museum where the “new” animal was given the name Okapi johnstoni. A live Okapi was captured in 1903 and they have become prize zoo exhibits since. There is a whole field of science called cryptozoology that seeks to investigate reports of unidentified animals. The animals have been there all along. The scientist were just ignorant of them.
It is the same for the boastful atheist. Just because the atheist has not discovered God is not proof He does not exist. The truth is that this type of atheist demands that God prove His existence in a manner acceptable to the atheist. All of Creation, His revelation of Himself through His prophets and His intervention into human history are not enough to satisfy such atheists. Just as in the conclusion of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus said that “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). So it is that these kinds of atheists reject everything except their own ideas. That includes the testimony of Jesus who did rise from the dead.
The case of these types of atheists it is even worse, for even from the purely rationalistic standpoint God may well exist where the atheist has not yet looked. If they were intellectually honest, they would admit that they are agnostic, without knowledge, in their understanding of God. But don’t hold your breath waiting for such a humble acknowledgment from them. (Resource books on the topic of atheism and the new atheism include: Atheism Remix by R. Albert Mohler Jr.; Cosmos – Creator and Human Destiny by Dave Hunt, Does God Believe in Atheists by John Blanchard; The “New” Atheism by Michael Poole and The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias)
There are many that are not as arrogant as Dawkins and Hitchens and will refer to themselves as agnostic. They do not believe there is a God, but since they cannot prove their case they leave His existence as an unknown. However, there are several types of agnostics.
First, there are those that are relatively humble people who admit that they have not given a lot of consideration to God, so they simply do not have enough information to have an opinion. Second, there are those who have given some thought to it, but because they are skeptical of the information that has been given to them, they will not claim to know definitely one way or the other. Both of these types of agnostics can be open to additional information which could lead to a change of mind. However, the problem is rarely the lack of information. Remember, Paul already pointed out in Romans 3:11 that there is “none who seeks for God.” Again we find that it is a spiritual problem, for it is the lack of desire that keeps such agnostics from coming to God and not actually a lack of knowledge or intelligence.
There is a third type of agnostic which rivals the arrogant atheist. While they may be intellectually honest enough to admit that the atheist position is not tenable, they will insist that not only do they not know, but they insist that no one can actually know for certain about God. It comes back to the same foundational error as the arrogant atheist. Their system of epistemology, that is, their system of knowing, and only their system of epistemology is valid and so must be applied to all people. In other words, because they cannot know to their own satisfaction, then they insist that no one else can either. That is roughly equal to saying that because I am limited and cannot explore the dark side of the moon, you too must be so limited and cannot explore the dark side of the moon, therefore it is unknowable. However, the fact is that others have not been so limited and have been able to explore the dark side of the moon by both manned and unmanned space vehicles. To put it more bluntly, if only a particular system of epistemology is allowable, then knowledge beyond that system of knowing cannot be attained. However, I do not have to limit myself to someone else’s system and remain ignorant and stupid.
Ultimately the agnostic is ignorant because of their choice to remain so. You have no obligation to run your life by their rules, in fact, you have an obligation not to do so. In Acts 17:22-31 the apostle Paul addressed the issue of God’s demand from those who had been ignorant of him. Paul’s sermon ended with him saying, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Man is not to remain ignorant. He is to repent. The issue of man’s ability to know God has been well addressed philosophically in books such as Francis Schaeffer’s, He is There and He is Not Silent and C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity.
Empiricism is next philosophy I want to discuss. There are several divergent lines of thought within it, but the underlying premise of empiricism is that all ideas are derived from experience. David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding would be a prime example of this philosophy. Hume further asserted that while the relation between ideas can be known, that their actual reality cannot be established beyond probability. Because any experience would have to be conceptualized and then communicated in order to give any meaning to the experience, the meaning becomes completely dependent on the interpretation by the individual. The application of empirical thought to religion resulted in two divergent problems.
First, is the application of the scientific method to theology. That science can only be applied to the physical world and theology applies metaphysical realities and divine revelation to the physical world is ignored by this philosophy. Instead, it subjects theology to scientism forcing divine revelation to be interpreted by the current theories of science. To put it more bluntly, the Biblical revelation of God and His actions cannot be trusted and must instead by explained and interpreted to fit the speculations of man. God is then either inept or a liar and there are no miracles. Yet the Scriptures are clear that it is men that lie and that God cannot do so (Psalm 116:11; Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18).
The second problem generated by empiricism is the religious experience paradigm warned about a few weeks ago. Friedrich Schleiermacher was very influential in the development of this idea resulting in the declared truth of Scripture becoming secondary to an individual’s experiences and interpretation of them. This quickly results in what I think and feel being more important than what God has said, and that idea has even had negative effects in conservative evangelical Christianity in which the word of God is supposed to be held as the final authority. Yet we find that God tells us that the human “heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Proverbs 28:26 warns, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered.”
Another philosophy that attacks Biblical divine revelation as the source of truth is rationalism. There are several different forms of rationalism, but all of them hold the conviction that reality is actually rational in nature and that making proper deductions is essential to achieving knowledge. Some forms of rationalism, such as that of Descartes, used deductive reasoning to argue for such things as his own existence, the existence of a God who is infinite, perfect and knowable. Many of those philosophical arguments are still used today against atheists and agnostics. However, rationalism also has a negative side because it is limited and not all things can be known by deductive reasoning. For example, the various forms of rationalism that disagree with each other such as Descartes’ dualism, Spinoza’s monism and Leibniz’s monadology. The application of rationalism to theology laid a foundation for theories of higher criticism which attacks the authorship, veracity and clarity of the Scriptures. It also was used by deists to dismiss miracles and fulfilled prophecy as evidence for special revelation.
The foundational error in rationalism is in its placing human reason as superior to divine revelation. This in turn requires the Bible to be interpreted according to human reasoning. In effect, this means that man places his own finite abilities, including his limited rationality, upon God who is infinite in all His attributes. God is not against human reason, for He even calls on man to come and reason with Him (Isaiah 1:18). However, Isaiah 55:8-9 records God’s comparison of Himself with man saying, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” The rationalism of man cannot explain the ways, works or word of the God who is infinite.
The Theological Liberal
Theological liberalism is a catch phrase for divergent philosophies that are tied together by the quest to adopt theology to culture and its ways of thinking. This is also called “modernism.” A major theological shift took place in American and European Christianity starting in the late 1800’s resulting in major battles that fractured the mainline denominations in the 1920’s and 30’s. For the most part, liberal theologians had already gained the positions of power within the denominations so they were able to keep control of the material assets of the denomination, but many new denominations and associations formed, including our own, as the people left because they wanted to hear the word of God instead of the musings of men.
The underlying premise of liberalism was that changes in the world at large required changes within the church as well. Ideas from Darwinian evolution began to interpret human history so that it came to be believed that theology evolved from the religious ideas developed by men over time rather than God giving man revelation of Himself and His will over time. God Himself came to be seen as present and dwelling within the world in an almost pantheistic way instead of a being who is transcendent to the world. This idea is termed divine immanence and resulted in the acceptance of the idea of God disclosing Himself in nearly everything which diminished the importance of Scripture. At the same time, ideas from rationalism and empiricism were attacking the veracity of the Scriptures resulting in a rejection of the Bible alone being the basis for religious belief. Between the higher criticism of the Bible and idea of divine immanence, other sources of authority became viewed as equal to or even superior to divine revelation.
A century later, liberalism is still quite alive and influential, though it has factioned and morphed in many directions. The humanistic optimism that society was moving toward the realization of the kingdom of God with an ethical state of human perfection was smashed in the realities of WWI and WWII. Some groups ended up breaking with Christianity and turned to secular humanism. Others were taken in by empiricism so that they practice a religion based on scientific methods and experience. Others have continued in the quest to demythologize Jesus and the scriptures and so they have continued in the tradition of intellectualism, sentimentality, accommodation with the world, and a lesser god. Still others have reacted to this to create the “neo-liberal” that wants a more transcendent God who is capable of helping man face sin, yet is still adaptable to the modern culture. This is why the emergent church is in a real sense simply the next phase of liberalism.
The damage of theological liberalism in the United States and Europe has been immense. Churches that once taught the gospel abandoned it and died. Buildings that once housed vibrant local churches are now restaurants, pubs, exercise centers, theaters, and even worship centers for Islam and Hinduism. Denominations that once influenced societies for righteousness have become worldly even advocating what God says He abhors including abortion, fornication, adultery and homosexuality.
What is the root error in all of it? Abandonment of the word of God for the theories, thoughts and speculations of men. The truth is abandoned and man is enslaved by the errors of his own ways. As Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way [which seems] right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” They have entered through the broad gate and are on the broad path that leads to destruction while all the while thinking they are doing just great (Matthew 7:13-14). They build their houses on the sand because they no longer will believe or listen to the engineer and architect, but the storms of life will cause them to collapse in the end (Matthew 7:24-27).
Our hope is founded in the solid rock of God’s revelation of Himself in His word. David extolled it in Psalm 119 and Psalm 19 describes it as perfect, sure, right, pure, clean and true and able to restore the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, enlighten the eyes and endure forever because they are righteous altogether. Jesus Himself proclaimed it to be true (John 17:17). Why? Because its origin is not in man, but in God Himself who inspired it (2 Timothy 3:16) and moved men by His Holy Spirit to speak what He directed (2 Peter 1:19-21).
For some people God is distant, but He does not have to be. God described Himself in Jeremiah 23:23 -24 saying, “Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord, “And not a God far off? “Can a man hide himself in hiding places, So I do not see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord.” Psalm 139 describes Him in similar terms that He is intimately acquainted with you and all you do and that there is no where you can go to escape His presence. He is near at hand and also far away wherever you may go. So if you are not close to Him, who is the one keeping the distance?
James 4:8 calls on man to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Hebrews 11:6 calls on man to come to God in faith for “without faith it is impossible to please [Him], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and [that] He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” God also gives an invitation in Jeremiah 29:13 to seek and find Him and that you will be successful when you do so with all your heart. But that brings us back to the practical atheism that I spoke about at the beginning of this sermon. Man will not seek God on His own though God gives the invitation to do so.
What then is to be done? James 4:8-9 also addresses that question. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Humility is the key. God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). Jesus put it this way in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-4, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The word “poor” means destitute. You come to God with nothing to offer and nothing to bargain with. You can only beg for His mercy, and as you mourn over your sin and repent from it to believe in Jesus Christ, He grants that mercy.
As Jesus described it to Nicodemus in John 3:14-21, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged.” That is a sure hope because we can have absolute confidence in Jesus to keep His promises for He cannot lie and His resurrection from the dead proves His ability to do so.
But Jesus did not end His conversation with Nicodemus there. He went on to warn him. “He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
There is a lot of philosophical foolishness in the world. God offers to redeem all who will believe from their sin and the enslavement to that foolishness. However, He will condemn those who continue in it. If you are not a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore saved by God’s grace through faith in Him, you can be today – or you can continue to run the risk of dying without Him and facing God in your own unrighteousness. I implore you to talk with me or someone else, but don’t leave today without being right with God.
If you are already saved, then rejoice in what God has done for you and His continued work in you to conform you to the image of His son so that you do not have to live according to the foolishness that fills our world. Tell someone about it this week so that they too may know the joy of walking in the Spirit of God as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Sermon Notes – 6/27/2010
Philosophical Foolishness – The Errors of Philosophical Theology
Religions and cults that are contrary to the _______________ leave a person condemned by God
Aberrant theology can leave a Christian spiritually confused and _______________
Secular philosophies are founded in the idea that man is __________ than God
The Fool – Psalm 14
A fool, according to the Bible, is the person who says or acts as if there is ____________
None do good, understand or __________ after God; all have turned aside and become corrupt
You cannot _________ someone into salvation – John 1:13
The gospel of Jesus Christ is ______revelation, do not let it appear as just another man made philosophy
The __________ atheist – Proverbs 1:7; 22; 12:15
A person claiming that there is no God would have to be ____________ to exclude the possibility.
An atheist’s rejection of God’s revelation does _________________ He does not exist – cf. Luke 16:31
Intellectually honest atheists would have to admit they are ____________ – they do not know
1) The ___________ agnostic who has not give consideration to God might be open to new information
2) The ___________ agnostic may be willing to given further investigation
The problem is not a lack of information, but a lack of desire to ___________ God (Romans 3:11)
3) The ______________ agnostic insists God cannot be known by himself – or anyone else
The epistemological restrictions the agnostic places on himself _________ have to apply to anyone else
Agnostics remains ignorant because they ____________ to do so – Acts 17:22-31
The underlying premise of empiricism is that all ideas are derived from ____________
Experience derives meaning from perception, so ________________ interpretation gives meaning
Empiricism subjected theology to scientism forcing divine revelation to be interpreted by ____________
This makes God either a liar or inept, but ______is the liar, not God -(Ps, 116:11; Numb. 23:19; Heb. 6:18)
Empiricism subjected theology to interpretation according to _____________ perceptions of experience
Rationalists believe that reality is rational in nature and knowledge derives from proper ____________
__________ reasoning from rationalists are still used in refuting things such as atheism and agnosticism
The negative sides of rationalism are its ___________and application to theology from divine revelation
Its fundamental error is placing human reason as ____________ to divine revelation – cf. Isaiah 55:6-8
The Theological Liberal
Many divergent philosophies tied together by the quest to adapt theology to _____________ .
Modernism took root in the late 1800’s and ___________the mainline denominations in the early 1900’s
It applied _________________ theory to history and theological development.
God’s transcendence was traded for near pantheistic _____________diminishing Scripture’s importance
They rejected of the _____________ as the source of divine authority
Theological liberalism has factioned and morphed in many ________________ directions
Theological liberalism has caused severe ___________ to European and American Christianity.
The root error is the abandonment of the ____________for the theories, thoughts & speculations of men
Eternal life is granted to all who ___________ in Jesus (John 3:14-18)
Those who do not believe _____________ under God’s just condemnation (John 3:18-21)
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – 1) Write down all the verses mentioned. 2) Count how many times “philosophy” is used. 3) Talk with your parents about why it is foolish to deny God’s existence.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why is the atheist a fool? What is a “practical atheist.” Since none are good, understand or seek God, how does a person become a child of God? How does this effect the way in which you witness to a non-Christian? What would be necessary for someone to be able to truthfully proclaim there is no God? Since no-human meets that criteria, why then do atheists make that assertion? Why are agnostics more honest than atheists? What is the actual problem that keeps an agnostic from knowing God? What foundational error is common to both the proud atheist and the arrogant agnostic? Why must the epistemology of the agnostic be rejected? What is the basic premise of empiricism? Why is the problem of applying the scientific method to theology? Why is religious experience a foolish way to determine truth? What idea is common to all rationalists? How has rationalism been helpful to theism? What is the fundamental error of rationalism? How has rationalism been detrimental to theology? What was the result of the rise and dominance of theological liberalism (modernism)? What is the underlying premise of liberalism? What is its root error? What is the hope of mankind? How can a person seek God? How does a person become a Christian? What is the danger of rejecting Jesus’ claims?
Atheism Remix by R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Cosmos – Creator and Human Destiny by Dave Hunt,
Does God Believe in Atheists by John Blanchard
The “New” Atheism by Michael Poole
The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias
He is There and He is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Think Biblically by John MacArthur and TMC Faculty
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