Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Evangelical Universalism and sharing the gospel. What are your thoughts?

Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby TotalVictory » Wed Feb 18, 2009 3:07 pm

Just seemed wrong that a site called Evangelical Universalist had a thread titled "Evangelism" -- that had no posts...

Of all the words and ideas I’ve read here so far, perhaps these are the most sober ones for me. This from Gregory MacDonald’s section called “How Universalism Has Impacted my Life” (one of the best threads on this site so far -- in my opinion)

Gregory MacDonald wrote:Monday, August 18, 2008

It has not impacted my evangelism in the sense that I do not present universalism to people when I explain the gospel … I do not tell people that Hell is not the end (though, if it was appropriate in a specific situation I would do so). [/color]


Yet still fresh to, and flush from the excitement of discovering the Total Victory won by Christ as reflected in the reality that ALL will ultimately be saved, now it is suggested that to break such news too early might in fact cause more harm than help to the one I sincerely want to encourage; whose burden I seek to lighten; whose flickering flame of hope I want to revive.

I must confess that this resurrects in me all the guilts and fears of yesteryear that I should be out there warning people of their dire fate unless they …. well, we all know the drill I guess. The idea that, by my inaction, or in this case action, somehow I might be the reason for someone’s future suffering is troubling. Further, causing another to stumble is certainly anathema for me -- as it is all of us I’m sure -- so that is a line one wants to stay as far away from as possible.

It troubles me to find myself questioning the fairness of a God who would allow someone else’s fate of future suffering to rest in my hands. I mean, the entire universe knows (conceivably) that I’m a flawed sinner, eagerly awaiting redemption, so what would be the purpose of adding to my burden and guilt by being held responsible for another’s suffering? One can drive himself insane with that kind of worry; for where does it logically stop?

On the other hand, I have been thinking lately about a common derisive response from those who ridicule the very idea of Universal Restoration; “well then -- guess I can go out and sin with impunity and ‘get away’ with it huh”?!!

This quandary seems to lay bare the reality that not all follow Christ “for the joy set before me” -- some may follow to keep their butts from gettin’ kicked! So to speak. Drawn by love and gratefulness -- or pushed and pulled by warnings of pain and suffering. I’m just not at all clear how to walk this line. Am I making a false dichotomy? Maybe I should be emphasizing both so all bases are covered?

One of the things that bugs me when being lectured by those trying to convince me how wrong I am about Universalism is when they say that Hell (or annihilation) shows conclusively just how “seriously” God takes sin. “So” I ask in reply “beating the snot out of someone will show them? Is it not possible that a God who was truly serious about sin would HEAL sinners and thereby making sin no more!” Seems to me that mere violence in response to sin is easy; the harder task is to take responsibility for it and HEAL it. More, it seems to me that learning the reality of UR will result in such a relief that people can relax and serve God without all that nagging fear and uncertainty. This presupposes, I guess, that such a one is already serious about enjoying God’s company and living a more Christ-like life.

So I’m just not sure. Is the “Good News” to be put in terms of sufferings to be avoided? (ie Jesus is the Way to minimize suffering; perhaps true, but is it winsome?) Or is it better to simply stay positive and even offer how the book ends -- ie Universalism? Then again, salvation really has no context unless one has a comprehension of his need for it; a comprehension that is, of sin. It’s back to that whole law-necessary-to-bring-us-to-Christ dynamic.

The “catch-22” then is tell the Good News of UR -- and risk minimizing sin
--or--
try to enable a vision of sin -- and risk inducing fear and despair and uncertainty

Wow -- I’ve got to think about this some more… seems I’ve got more bias on this issue than I had imagined...

TotalVictory
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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby JeffA » Thu Feb 19, 2009 1:23 am

Bob#3

Speaking as the evangelee (so to speak) here's my take on it..

As far as the writers of the Gospels go, their portrait of Jesus doesn't seem to include a whole load of episodes where Jesus berates unbelievers and sinners with fierce talk of punishment. Jesus is more often righteously angry with the religious leaders of the day and says quite clearly that the prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom before them (it doesn't matter whether that meant the sinners would really go in before them or just an exageration to show how impossible it would be for them to enter the kingdom in their self-righteousness). Jesus also tells the disciples not to vent their anger on towns that don't receive them but to shake the dust off their feet and move on. Similarly when they want to call down fire from heaven Jesus is pretty stern in his rebuke of them.

Also in the rest of the NT (Revelation apart) I don't see many places where it's the pagans who are assalted with threats of retribution (again it's mostly backsliding Christians). When Paul speaks to the Greeks he doesn't maul them verbally over their multiple gods he just points out that the unnamed god they also worship is the true God and that it was this God who sent Jesus to save them.

By all means tell the unbeliever the good news (in its entirety) and leave it to God to do any work in them. I suppose if the Christian is fully in tune with the Holy Spirit then their own thought processes shouldn't really interfere with whatever words the Spirit chooses to communicate the Gospel to the unbeliever (I've yet to see that happen). I think the difficulty is for the Christian to get out of the mindset that makes them feel responsible for 'winning the soul' of the unbeliever they are evangelizing.

By all means tell me the Good News as you see it - but don't go on and on and on and on at me about punishment or I'll just avoid you in future (I don't mean you personally I just mean some generic you :mrgreen: ).
Yours in doubt

Jeff the Agnostic Universalist.
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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby JasonPratt » Thu Feb 19, 2009 5:56 am

JeffA wrote:Also in the rest of the NT (Revelation apart) I don't see many places where it's the pagans who are assalted with threats of retribution (again it's mostly backsliding Christians).


Though even in RevJohn the backsliding Christians get threatened first. ;)
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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby JasonPratt » Thu Feb 19, 2009 6:33 am

TotalVictory wrote:Just seemed wrong that a site called Evangelical Universalist had a thread titled "Evangelism" -- that had no posts...


:lol: I've kept thinking the same thing myself; but I've always been busy doing something else somewhere else. (...evangelizing, I hope. :) )


TotalVictory wrote:It troubles me to find myself questioning the fairness of a God who would allow someone else’s fate of future suffering to rest in my hands.


And yet, strictly speaking, that happens every moment of every day all over the world. The people I sin against, God help them, suffer because God allows their fate of future suffering (temporary though it may be) to rest in my hands.

I know you were thinking in terms of "final unalterable hopeless future suffering", but I wanted to take the opportunity to refocus that concern: even if universalism is true (and I strongly believe it is), God still allows people to suffer at my hands (not even to say the hands of sinners much apparently 'worse' than I am). God also still allows people to suffer at the whims of a non-sentient natural system.

The truth of universalism doesn't change any of that. And it's something we ought to keep in mind, including (maybe especially) for evangelical purposes.


TotalVictory wrote:The “catch-22” then is tell the Good News of UR -- and risk minimizing sin
--or--
try to enable a vision of sin -- and risk inducing fear and despair and uncertainty


Rather sums up the whole OT in a nutshell right there. ;) Especially (though not exclusively) in God's relationship with Israel.

I could write a huge essay on the topic, but I'd only be echoing what George MacD from back in the 19th century has already said. So I'll be lazy and quote him instead. :mrgreen: :

GMacD in Unspoken Sermons vol 1, the Consuming Fire wrote:
The symbol of the consuming fire would seem to have been suggested to the writer [of the Epistle to the Hebrews] by the fire that burned on the mountain of the old law. That fire was part of the revelation of God there made to the Israelites.

Nor was it the first instance of such a revelation. The symbol of God's presence, before which Moses had to put off his shoes, and to which it was not safe for him to draw near, was a fire that did not consume the bush in which it burned. Both revelations were of terror.

But the same symbol employed by a writer of the New Testament should mean more, not than it meant before, but than it was before employed to express; for it could not have been employed to express more than it was possible for them to perceive.

What else than terror could a nation of slaves, into whose very souls the rust of their chains had eaten, in whose memory lingered the smoke of the flesh-pots of Egypt, who, rather than not eat of the food they liked best, would have gone back to the house of their bondage--what else could such a nation see in that fire than terror and destruction? How should they think of purification by fire? They had yet no such condition of mind as could generate such a thought. And if they had had the thought, the notion of the suffering involved would soon have overwhelmed the notion of purification. Nor would such a nation have listened to any teaching that was not supported by terror. Fear was that for which they were fit. They had no worship for any being of whom they had not to be afraid.

Was then this show upon Mount Sinai a device to move obedience, such as bad nurses employ with children?--a hint of vague and false horror? Was it not a true revelation of God?

If it was not a true revelation, it was none at all, and the story is either false, or the whole display was a political trick of Moses. Those who can read the mind of Moses will not easily believe the latter, and those who understand the scope of the pretended revelation, will see no reason for supposing the former. That which would be politic, were it a deception, is not therefore excluded from the possibility of another source. Some people believe so little in a cosmos or ordered world, that the very argument of fitness is a reason for unbelief.

At all events, if God showed them these things, God showed them what was true. It was a revelation of Himself. He will not put on a mask. He puts on a face. He will not speak out of flaming fire if that flaming fire is alien to Him, if there is nothing in Him for that flaming fire to reveal. Be His children ever so brutish, He will not terrify them with a lie.

[...]

Here was a nation at its lowest: could it receive anything but a partial revelation, a revelation of fear? How should the Hebrews be other than terrified at that which was opposed to all they knew of themselves, beings judging it good to honour a golden calf?! Such as they were, they did well to be afraid! They were in a better condition, acknowledging if only a terror above them, flaming on that unknown mountain height, than stooping to worship the idol below them.

Fear is nobler than sensuality. Fear is better than no God, better than a god made with hands. In that fear lay deep hidden the sense of the infinite. The worship of fear is true, although very low; and though not acceptable to God in itself, for only the worship of spirit and of truth is acceptable to Him, yet even in His sight it is precious. For He regards men not as they are merely, but as they shall be; and not as they shall be merely, but as they are now growing, or capable of growing, towards that image after which He made them that they might grow to it.

Therefore a thousand stages, each in itself all but valueless, are of inestimable worth as the necessary and connected gradations of an infinite progress. A condition which of declension would indicate a devil, may of growth indicate a saint. So far then the revelation, not being final any more than complete, and calling forth the best of which they were now capable, so making future and higher revelation possible, may have been a true one.

But we shall find that this very revelation of fire is itself, in a higher sense, true to the mind of the rejoicing saint as to the mind of the trembling sinner. For the former sees farther into the meaning of the fire, and knows better what it will do to him. It is a symbol which needed not to be superseded, only unfolded. While men take part with their sins, while they feel as if, separated from their sins, they would be no longer themselves, how can they understand that the lightning word is a Saviour--that word which pierces to the dividing between the man and the evil, which will slay the sin and give life to the sinner? Can it be any comfort to them to be told that God loves them so that He will burn them clean? Can the cleansing of the fire appear to them anything beyond what it must always, more or less, be--a process of torture?

They do not want to be clean, and they cannot bear to be tortured. Can they then do other, or can we desire that they should do other, than fear God, even with the fear of the wicked, until they learn to love Him with the love of the holy? To them Mount Sinai is crowned with the signs of vengeance. And is not God ready to do unto them even as they fear?--though with another feeling and a different end from any which they are capable of supposing! He is against sin: in so far as, and while, they and sin are one, He is against them--against their desires, their aims, their fears, and their hopes; and thus He is altogether and always for them. That thunder and lightning and tempest, that blackness torn with the sound of a trumpet, that visible horror billowed with the voice of words, was all but a faint image to the senses of the slaves of what God thinks and feels against vileness and selfishness, of the unrest of unassuageable repulsion with which He regards such conditions; that so the stupid people, fearing somewhat to do as they would, might leave a little room for that grace to grow in them, which would at length make them see that evil, and not fire, is the fearful thing; yea, so transform them that they would gladly rush up into the trumpet-blast of Sinai to escape the flutes around the golden calf.

Could they have understood this, they would have needed no Mount Sinai. It was a true, and of necessity a partial revelation--partial in order to be true.

[...]

For, when we say that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of Him is groundless? No. As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. But there is something beyond their fear: a divine fate which they cannot withstand, because it works along with the human individuality which the Divine individuality has created in them. The wrath will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear, coming out with tenfold consciousness of being, and bringing with them all that made the blessedness of the life the men tried to lead without God. They will know that now first are they fully themselves. The avaricious, weary, selfish, suspicious old man shall have passed away. The young, ever young self, will remain. That which they thought themselves shall have vanished: that which they felt themselves, though they misjudged their own feelings, shall remain--remain glorified in repentant hope. For that which cannot be shaken shall remain. That which is immortal in God shall remain in man. The death that is in them shall be consumed.
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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby Andrew » Thu Feb 19, 2009 8:53 pm

TotalVictory,

(My apologies that this is my first post, and I haven't posted in the intro section - I hope to do that later, but this thread caught my eye today - as way of a quick intro - I'm a regular ol' Christian who goes to a Christian Reformed Church and I have believed that God has plans for all for about the last three years).

Your thread made me pause today, because I share some of your thoughts and feelings. I've realized that in coming to believe in the eventual salvation of all there is (for me, at least) an inclination to have a more relaxed view of evangelism. I'm not really sure if that is bad or good. However, even before I believed in UR, I wasn't all that much of an evangelist and I've never had the stomach to throw hell in someone's face. In the times I've shared my faith, I always speak of the God of Love that I have experienced... keeping in mind that God's kindness leads to repentance.

I suppose that in some circumstances speaking of judgment may be appropriate - but I haven't been faced with those situations - and I expect that if I did I wouldn't talk about hell, but about how the sin (or whatever) that someone was dealing with would be it's own reward, if you know what I mean.

I do believe we have responsibility to give what we have received to our fellow man... however, I think that the responsibility has to fall in line with how the Spirit is working in us. While, by most standards, I'm not much of an evangelist, God has provided me with some very genuine opportunities to share my faith... And I'm very thankful for those.

I think I have a tendency to feel too responsible sometimes... and then the guilt creeps in. But there is evidence in the Bible that suggests to me that running around spreading the gospel isn't what we're all called to. People talk about Paul's urgency to spread the gospel, which I do not deny he had, but he also wrote these words from 1 Thess 4: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."

As far as preaching judgment or preaching mercy... I read something by Stephen Jones once that really stuck out to me... He was talking about John 21 - the disciples were fishing and not catching anything... Jesus tells them to throw the net on the right side of the boat and they haul in a bunch o' fish. According to Jones it is significant that Jesus tells them to throw their net on the right side, because according to the OT (I haven't confirmed this myself) the right hand of God represents mercy and the left represents judgment... The point being that it's the love and mercy of God that will bring people to Christ... And from my experience, it is the realization of God's love that produces fruitful change in me...

Well, sorry for the disconnected thoughts.

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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby ImagoDei » Thu Mar 05, 2009 11:40 pm

Now that I am considering UR, this topic has been on my mind. Like some here, I have never been an ardent evangelist. I think it has been because I've always had more than a little doubt about aspects of the Christian faith, Hell obviously being one of them. That being said, if I embraced Universalism, I would still strongly hold to the biblical model of evangelism which requires repentance and belief in Christ's resurrection. Assuming that UR is true, no one is going to be in Heaven without repenting of their sins. What if the nonbeliever responds that he will do that in the next life and will just spend this one being filled with selishness, vain accumulation of wealth, and fornication with young beautiful women? After all, if everyone is saved in the end, can't he just have as much carnal fun as he can? At that point, I think bringing up the judgment of God both in terms of natural consequences in this life as well as a finite though bad post-mortem experience in Hell would be appropriate. Jesus did speak of Gehenna, and painted it as a place you'd rather not stay for long.

I am very much a doubting person and won't evangelize unless I believe that what I am preaching is wholly true. I have to see a greater amount of repentance in my own life and be convinced one way or another on the Hell issue. Is this sinful of me? I know of a fundamentalist website that has a counter of how many people are dying every moment with the omnimous implication that many of them will be eternally lost. The guilt of intellectually deliberating and searching while this could be happening to millions of people is overwhelming. In not trying my best now, am I partly responsible for the damnation of others? That would be horrible. Even the milder views of eternal Hell shouldn't inspire more comfort. All this strikes me a little ridiculous in various ways and is the reason why I have never really believed in the traditional doctrine fully. Still though, it would be contrary to the New Testament if we let a doctrine of UR bring us to indifference about our neighbor's orientation concerning God.
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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby JeffA » Fri Mar 06, 2009 12:54 am

I don't think most non-believers on being evangelised take the view 'well gosh I believe totally what you are saying but I'm going to defer my salvation until after death so I can get in my quota of sinning'. They are much more likely to continue in their sinful ways only because they don't believe what you're saying is actually true.

As far as I can see from the NT it's not the Christian's job to debate the non-Christian into belief (it being the Holy Spirit's role to convict of sin) but to give an account of why they personally believe the Good News (and that might include the unvarnished topic of retribution and punishment). As I have said before - I would be far more convinced by seeing a Christian living a Christ-like life than any eolquence on their part in a debate.
Yours in doubt

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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby firstborn888 » Fri Mar 06, 2009 1:52 am

I'm always amazed by the ET rebuttal of UR which asks "then why evangelize?".

I've known UR since day one and it had no ill effect on evangelism whatsoever. When you're reborn and Spirit filled, what else is there? I preached, testified and shared with literally everyone who came across my path. I fasted for days on end just to feel spiritually strong and stay in touch with what I had found. I would not so much as watch a sexually suggestive TV program and stayed away from magazines and even stopped looking at billboards (!) because I did not want to spend any more time in the pig pen of carnal thought.

I seriously wonder if those who ask the "why evangelize?" question have had a very deep encounter with God. I mean, really. :?:
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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby ImagoDei » Fri Mar 06, 2009 1:15 pm

JeffA wrote:I don't think most non-believers on being evangelised take the view 'well gosh I believe totally what you are saying but I'm going to defer my salvation until after death so I can get in my quota of sinning'. They are much more likely to continue in their sinful ways only because they don't believe what you're saying is actually true.

As far as I can see from the NT it's not the Christian's job to debate the non-Christian into belief (it being the Holy Spirit's role to convict of sin) but to give an account of why they personally believe the Good News (and that might include the unvarnished topic of retribution and punishment). As I have said before - I would be far more convinced by seeing a Christian living a Christ-like life than any eolquence on their part in a debate.


JeffA,

I was just imagining a hypothetical hedonist nonbeliever. It is a good thing that most people aren't full-ledged hedonists. I respect those who would disagree with me because they don't believe what I am saying is true. For a while now, I've been very interested in apologetics, especially the defense of Christ's resurrection. While I haven't spoken to many nonbelievers, the few I have spoken to seem to have deep psychological issues that prevent them from trying to look at the arguments and evidence with an open mind. While I am still very much interested in rational argument, I realize now that sin has a big effect on people's reasoning abilities. Humanity is grand in that we are thinking reeds, but we are pliable reeds nonetheless. We are not honest seekers of the truth. I think this is why when it comes to searching for religious truth, many people accept the pseudo-solutions of diversion and indifference. Jesus promised that whoever seeks will find. So, I have no fudamental disagreement with the agnostic or atheist who is honestly seeking.

I think we are kindred spirits in a way. I have been hesitant to evangelize much because I feel that my life doesn't reflect Christ as much as it should. To be fully honest though, it's not a complete either/or. I can live a completely Christ-like life and have really bad arguments for why I believe what I believe. On the flip side I could have the best, most logically valid and sound arguments for my faith and lead a terrible unregenerate life of sin. Both holy living and good argumentation are good things and are gifts of God.
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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby TotalVictory » Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:19 pm

firstborn888 wrote:I'm always amazed by the ET rebuttal of UR which asks "then why evangelize?"....

I seriously wonder if those who ask the "why evangelize?" question have had a very deep encounter with God. :?:


Interesting comments here on this thread. Much to say about ALL of them.
And several things going on too.
A few comments of my own…

As preface to the description of some particular good work by Christ we often read something like “and seeing their affliction, He took compassion on them.” The suffering of others, as well as the future suffering, should find us in the same attitude it seems; moved with compassion. I think it’s very appropriate for us to be motivated by wanting others to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering. So a simply answer to "why evangelize?" is because we are compassionate. Simple, but not complete.

Yet it’s so much more than getting some crucial “facts” correct so we can avoid being whacked into the kingdom. “The kingdom of God is HERE” and “I’ve come that you might have life and have it MORE abundantly” and “MY yoke is easy and MY burden is light” and similar statements surely evokes a positive reason to come back to God (I say back because that is the “place” where we are to be and always were intended to be) for that is where our greatest self-fulfillment and happiness will be. Evangelism then needs to be FAR more positive; any negativity thereby avoided is welcome, but not the main point. The “Good News” needs to be far better than just avoiding the Bad News.

Of course how to interact with the “happy pagan” is going to be an issue if one has this mindset. But respectful and loyal friendship seems a logical place to dive in. Evangelism as verb? -- or as adjective describing a constant state of compassionate mind.

And even though I am utterly immersed in the idea of eventual Universal Reconciliation, I remain puzzled by many aspects of it. We’ve all seen the humorous posters or signs or bumper stickers saying:

“The flogging will continue until morale improves”

--- but the reason this seems comical to us as humans is because we seem to share an awareness that flogging is the last thing that will improve morale! Yet there is a real risk that the evangelism of the Universalist -- our evangelism! -- comes across not much differently. Sort of a “climb on board now before the flogging begins”!

To be sure, I very much agree that growing awareness of God and God as witnessed in the Christ is somehow coupled with growing awareness of how far we have missed the mark; whether seen as “bad” actions or as estranged relationship. The two seem to go hand in hand. Someone who thinks there is no “problem” is certainly not going to see Christ as any kind of “solution”. So again; present the solution, or the problem, which seems negative but which causes thirst for a solution.

As for the potential guilt we will feel at watching others go through that awful time of remediation and wondering if there was anything we could have done to forestall it, I’m wondering if this is part of our happiness not being complete until ALL is redeemed. Just as God is not “all in all” (in actuality) until then. We will be fully invested in what God is doing and will mirror His emotions and ethos as it transpires. In a way we too will suffer with God as we watch this change evolve.

Just musing…

PS -- thinking about JeffA's love of music, we have, at our church, a men's chorus and they sing an absolutely wonderful and prayerful song wherein they offer up themselves to be the conduit through which God's love can flow to humanity; "Love through me..." it's called. MAYBE we're making it too complicated? Maybe it supposed to be as simple as letting God's love flow through us...

Still musing...

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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby nimblewill » Fri Mar 06, 2009 6:17 pm

Its always seemed strange to me that It was all Jesus until I got saved and then all of a sudden it was all me. As far as it being my responsibility to get some saved its crazy to think about them going to Hell if I am the one who was responsible for getting them saved. It simply does not add up.
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Re: Evangelizing: a catch-22?

Postby JeffA » Sat Mar 07, 2009 1:16 am

Bobx3

One of my favourite Christian authors the Jesuit Priest Gerard Hughes says something similar. He advocated starting prayer with something like 'Be the God of love and compassion to me and through me...'
Yours in doubt

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