Nathan Finn’s recent post entitled “The Southern Baptist Generation Gap,” deals with the issue of the lack of younger Southern Baptist messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It is very clear there is a lack of participation in pastors who are under the age 40. This is one of the reasons we started Baptist21. We love the Southern Baptist heritage and the Southern Baptist distinctives. We believe the SBC has issues, as any group of sinful human beings does. We believe that the SBC is quite possibly the best, and perhaps the largest, organized attempt by a multitude of churches to reach the world for Christ. We believe, with some reform, the SBC could be more effective and successful than it already is. We are grateful for the cooperative program and the opportunities it allows: Theological Education, Pastoral Training, Church Planting, and World Missions. We believe that together we are more effective than apart. We believe the SBC is worth fighting for because when we fight for the Convention, we are fighting for a host of people who are serving Jesus Christ in fields across the world that are ripe for a harvest.
This post is intended to interact with Nathan Finn’s article, continuing the conversation on why there is a generation gap, proposing possible remedies for the gap, and casting a vision of what could come from closing the gap.
Why is there a Generation Gap?
We must answer the question “Why don’t younger pastors attend the Convention?” This list contains Nathan Finn’s reasons as well as some we have added, and we acknowledge that it is not exhaustive.
While many of these should be discussed, and at some point we hope to address them, at this time we will only deal briefly with two.
I. Some are disenfranchised, rightly or wrongly, by petty arguments, overly political ambitions, and traditional, non-gospel centered issues.
We must recognize up front that any group of people cooperating together for a common purpose and goal will have a political dimension. The question will be whether our political dimension will be petty and ungodly or gospel-centered and godly. Finn writes:
“I often wonder what role “fighting” plays in our generation gap. How many over-40 conservatives disengaged once there were no longer many moderates to fight? How many over-40 conservatives pulled out because they were tired of fighting moderates? How many over-40 conservatives quit attending because, once the real moderates were mostly gone, some Southern Baptists started inventing some new “moderates” so they could still have someone to fight? And since more than a few of our present squabbles are at least to some degree generational battles, here is the money question: how many under-40 conservatives never became involved because they suspect that many of the over-40 conservatives don’t really want their involvement (though their CP dollars are of course welcome)?”
We believe that Finn’s perception of the “under-40 conservatives” never getting involved because the “over-40’s” do not really want their involvement is partly true. There seems to be a growing division in our denomination. One side says, “the younger, postmodern generation is tainted with a fluid view of sin, therefore we mustn’t let them challenge, nor effect change in our denomination”, while the other side says, “our world is constantly changing and the way we go about changing culture and reaching people for Christ must be willing to change and adapt to be effective in our world.” Whether the younger generation perceives this rightly or wrongly, the perception is there and if many of the older generation want an SBC for their great-grandchildren, they must be the ones to reach out. We, as younger men, must also challenge younger men not to evidence so much immaturity and haughtiness as if we have all the answers. We need older men, and older men could benefit from younger men as well. This is part of the beauty of cooperation. Nevertheless, there seems to be a rift developing between these two sides, and we are now seeing young pastors who look at their ministries and say “I don’t have to deal with the pettiness, political ambitions, and traditionalism that is not gospel-centered to change the world for Christ.” Why should they waste their time in a denomination that in some circles reject them because of the way they do ministry, the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, and the people that influence them?
Case in Point: Baptist Press on Mark Driscoll
The recent article by Baptist Press on Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle is an ironically timely illustration of this trend. Mark Driscoll’s track record over the last 10 years is staggering: 8,000 attend his church, 7 campuses, hundreds of churches planted through Acts 29 (with a 100% success rate), etc. Driscoll’s heart to reach as many people as possible for the glory of King Jesus is clear. What is also clear is the influence he has on millions of believers and especially young seminarians.
Some in our denomination believe that God is doing great things through Driscoll and that connecting with such a leader is beneficial for those training for ministry, young pastors, and even for current leaders in the denomination. Others have distanced themselves from him because of past occurrences of sin that, for some reason in their minds, can never be forgiven and still stain his current biblical, theological views. Not only have they distanced themselves from Driscoll, some have attacked his Acts29 network (like Missouri), and others have been critical of those who have allowed him to be involved in our SBC entities.
The article in the Baptist Press criticized Driscoll in an inaccurate and unfair way, and it gives an illustration of why some in the younger generations disengage. These kinds of things only aid their decisions to leave. Bombing raids on Gospel-centered brothers (who are not the enemy) turn many of them off. Baptist Press and others continue to castigate a man who has repented of past sins, and we as redeemed sinners must believe that the Cross takes care of sin. We should value repentance, not ignore it. We also continue to berate a man who preaches more gospel-centered sermons in a week than most pastors (including much of the SBC) preach in a year. We acknowledge that Driscoll is by no means perfect, nor is he always accurate. Some of what he does and says is edgy, radical, and stirs up controversy, but most of the time his approaches are not unbiblical. We in no way intend for this to be an endorsement of all things Driscoll, but we do believe he is doing valuable gospel work and he is not the one we need to launch our grenades on. We think that Dr. Alvin Reid’s Twitter comment says it well, “listen to his podcasts from SEBTS and decide for yourself if he’s friend or foe.”
This BP article gives a direct picture of what some in our denomination want to convey to those who may be influenced by men like Mark Driscoll. It seems that they are sending the signal “if this is you and your influenced by him, then change or stay out.” We at Bapist21, along with several “older-40” pastors and leaders in our denomination highly disagree with this inaccurate portrait of Mark Driscoll and ask that you stay in our denomination and let your voice be heard. We desire to affect change in our denomination and the world by remaining focused on what matters: “Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The reason we are willing to learn from someone like Driscoll is because we believe he shares this common vision with us and we hope you do as well.
Some Interactions with Quotes in the Baptist Press Article:
We are not even going to address the journalistic nature of this article, though others have. We turn to their thoughts.
“This graphic, found on Driscoll’s blog, warns that the material is not suitable for minor readers. However, there is no warning that such topics should be discussed only within the confines of marriage.”
It is wrong-headed to say that these topics should only be discussed in the confines of marriage; they must also be discussed with those that are moving toward marriage. That would include most of the congregation, though language should be tempered as appropriate for different ages. We need to be honest about these issues because this is what the younger generations (and everyone in the world) are talking about. If we can discuss these things anywhere it should be a church setting. Some people in your churches will not have parents to cover some of these issues and the church should recapture its authoritative role in instructing its people, not peers or a Google search.
“Schleuter also castigated Driscoll for linking the blog to a website, christiannymphos.org, which features articles on how a Christian wife can turn herself into a dominatrix, the glories of an-l and or-l sex, and the use of sex toys.”
We wish that Baptist Press had felt it necessary to post the disclaimer that Driscoll does with his link to this site.
“At a time when American young people are hit in the face with graphic sexuality in every facet of our culture, the church should be a safe haven where the sacredness and privacy of the act of marriage is respected by pastors,” Schleuter said in a press release. “Those with sexual issues need to receive private counseling — not sex seminars in a church auditorium.”
We would argue that Pastor Driscoll respects sexual issues more than many do, he at the least wants to help guide his congregation to a biblical view of sex. He never espouses premarital sex of any kind. He is intensely biblical in his view on sex and Schleuter is partially right, the church should be the safe place to discuss sex, which is what he was doing.
“For generations, Christian pastors have managed to convey the Scripture’s teachings on fornication, adultery and the beauty of sexuality within marriage without sullying and cheapening it” Schleuter added.”
This is the most ironic quote of the article. Is this why the church’s record on sexual issues like premarital sex and divorce is in lock step with the culture? The divorce rate inside of our own churches is extremely high, which shows there is a lack of accurate preaching on the subject of sex and marriage. This is one of the reasons we are grateful that pastors are beginning to cover tough topics; this should have always been the case.
“He (Driscoll) has simultaneously embraced the spirit of the age when it comes to his treatment of sex. In the process, he is pornifying the church and only adding to the moral squalor of our culture.”
Driscoll is engaging the spirit of this age, not embracing it. He is trying to help in an area that has spun out of control in our culture and in most of our churches. He is trying to redeem a gift from God. The Church is absolutely the place to do this.
If you will listen to Driscoll and read his books you will see a man that has a keen eye for the culture and how to address it biblically. It is our hope that we will figure out who the true enemies are. If we will not, as another blogger said to me, we will “continue to hear the splash of young seminarians jumping overboard.” We fear that this article is indicative of why the generation gap continues to grow.
N.A. and R.P.
Part II of this blog will be added tomorrow
Other Responses to the Baptist Press Article:
Part of the reason why a recovery of church discipline is essential for the church in the 21st century is because Jesus says that discipline is a practice carried out with his authority. When Jesus gives the process in Matthew 18 He also says that whatever the church binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever the church looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. Then Jesus gives his famous words that are so misunderstood, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (18:20). What is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying that when the church comes together and practices discipline the congregation is speaking with the authority of Christ. If the church lovingly calls someone to repentance and the person repents, the church restores them to the fellowship and is announcing with the authority of King Jesus that this is what the Kingdom of God looks like (this person is acting like a saved individual). If the person refuses to repent and the church dismisses them from the congregation, then the church announces with Christ’s authority that this is an unbeliever who will face judgment if they do not ever come to repentance. However, if the church refuses to discipline someone who is involved in serious, public, unrepentant sin, then the church is saying nothing except that they have removed themselves from Christ’s authority. Churches that refuse to practice discipline in these cases are telling the person, the congregation, and the lost that the Kingdom of God is made up of the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, etc. That is anti-Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The practice of discipline calls sinners to repentance with the authority of King Jesus and those who heed it hear the words from King Jesus himself through the congregation, you were sexually immoral and outside of the Kingdom “but you were washed…you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
At this point a word of caution is necessary. Church discipline is in need of recovery because so many churches fail to practice it. However, this does not mean that pastors or congregations who suddenly come to embrace discipline as a biblical practice should in response suddenly implement it in the congregation. Rushing into this, doing it without a firm handle on the biblical directives, or doing it before the congregation has been given time to understand and embrace it can be foolish. A pastor must first teach his congregation what the Bible says concerning discipline. Then, it can be implemented slowly, humbly, lovingly and wisely. Bitterness and retaliation are far too easy for fallen creatures, so we must guard against using church discipline as a weapon to inflict harm or payback (see purpose above). Church discipline should not be rushed into. Loving and patient leading is necessary.
Third, churches who do this can expect increasing backlash and persecution in the future.
The truth is that we live in a culture in which even the discipline of children has been rejected. Withholding discipline from children is seen as loving and progressive. If you say that you spank your children, then many will look at you as if you are an alien from another planet. It is obvious that in that kind of culture, a church that practices loving discipline will face backlash. Not only will public complaints increase, but the churches that practice discipline can expect to face being sued, other law suits, and much more in the future.
Fourth, we need to sincerely pray for this woman. She should be more concerned with the impact her actions have on her children than she is with the impact the church’s actions will have on her children.
Hancock has two children (20 year old son and 18 year old daugher). They have remained members of the church and will be there on the Sunday (January 4th) that the church votes to remove their mom from the congregation. Hancock says, “I don’t really care what they do to me. But I am concerned about my children sitting in church with their mom being crucified by the church that they trust.” She is worried about how this action will affect her children. It is ironic that she is more concerned with how the church lovingly calling her to repentance for an action that Jesus says will end in the judgment of Hell will affect her kids than she is with how her continual sexual immorality will affect them. The church is lovingly preaching a message to her, her children, and others that we will give an account for our sin. We cannot create our own morality. Actions have consequences. We will stand looking Jesus of Nazareth in the face awaiting judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). I pray that she would come to embrace this truth being preached with Christ’s authority by her church and repent. I have seen what church discipline can do, and it is wonderful. I have a friend who was also involved in immoral sexual relationships, pornography and other sins. His church began the discipline process on him, but through loving accountability and counseling God began to change his life. He turned from his sin. He threw himself on the mercy of King Jesus. He was saved. His marriage and family were rescued. He is serving faithfully in the church. Now, the Gospel transformation in his life has also led to the salvation of others in his family. This is what church discipline is intended to do! That is the Gospel message this congregation seeks to preach to Hancock, her children, her boyfriend, and others. I can think of nothing more loving. This congregation and this post are NOT trying to thrown stones at Rebecca Hancock. The message of church disicpline is that ALL of us deserve the judgment of God, and if it was not for the cross and the resurrection of Jesus we would all receive it. Church discipline calls us ALL to repentance and trust in our King.
Hancock speaks of herself almost as if she is Jesus being unjustly “crucified.” She is being tortured while her children look on helplessly. But, Jesus is not the biblical character she most resembles. In fact, she is more like the woman at the well who is in an immoral relationship (John 4). When Jesus encountered this cohabitating and sexually immoral woman, with a past filled with divorce and relationship turmoil, He both lovingly offered her the water of life and lovingly rebuked her immorality. Jesus’ words not only transformed her life but also “many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:39). Naming her sexual sin on that occasion was not cruel. It changed her life and the lives around her. I pray that this would be the outcome in Jacksonvile, Florida. Jesus stood in the flesh calling this woman to repentance and eternal life, and He changed an entire town. If this church carries out discipline then Jesus of Nazareth will be in Jacksonville, Florida on January 4th speaking familiar words that he uttered almost 2,000 years ago to another woman in a similar situation. His voice shook that town. It will certainly shake Jacksonville.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has announced that effective January 1 Bruce Riley Ashford will be the new dean of the College at Southeastern, the undergraduate program at Southeastern Seminary. Dr. Ashford has been serving as director of the Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern since 2005. He teaches courses in theology, philosophy, and missions. Dr. Ashford is an active member at the thriving Summit Church in Durham. He is a gifted communicator and speaks at churches and in other venues all over our Convention. In addition, Dr. Ashford blogs at Between the Times with four of his SEBTS colleagues (David Nelson, Ken Keathley, Nathan Finn, and Danny Akin). He has been a vocal proponent of a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) in the SBC in his teaching, speaking, and blogging. He is a rising leader in our Convention and a man who exemplifies the wedding of piety, doctrine, and practice.
Baptist21 posted a blog entitled “Men and Women of Whom the World is Not Worthy, A Better Resurrection, and Am I an Obstacle to the Nations Hearing the Gospel?” that addressed a sermon he delivered in Southeastern’s Chapel on missions to begin the new academic year. He is an avid proponent of missions and church planting and renewal, as well as a student favorite on campus. In addition, he has posted a wonderful ten-part series on Theologically driven Missiology. We here at Baptist 21 wish to say congratulations to Dr. Ashford and are excited about Dr. Ashford’s new post.
This post is the final post in a series that has focused on the insights gained from D.A. Carson’s “The Cross and Christian Ministry.” This final post focuses on more implications drawn from his work as he examines I Corinthians and the effect of the Cross on ministry. Carson’s work has challenged me and so I hope that this final blog relays that truth; I do not in anyway hope to portray that I have mastered this in my personal ministry. I do not intend to indicate that I know how to best implement or lead this kind of ministry, the areas I address instead I have drawn from Carson’s work and the example of men godlier, wiser, and more mature than I am. This post is a challenge to me and I hope to the rest of us as well.
The cross will affect our Mission- Carson says Christians should become “all things to all men” without damaging the message of the Gospel; knowing that “there will be times when it is necessary to confront culture” (122). We will be willing to give up “real rights” for a greater cause. A list of things that may need to be given up for the mission could be discussed, but this is more a matter of conscience in individual cases. Nevertheless, this mission is nothing less than the salvation of the world. What a wonderful misson and what a merciful God who allows us to be a part of it! We are compelled by the cross to receive this cosmic battle plan and to strive to be ministers who can serve in any context. This can be done if we die to self and give up our “real rights” for the sake of the perishing. We must ask above all, “How will this course of action contribute to, or hinder, the work of the Gospel?” This question should be attached to everything we do; this is a question that seeks to keep the cross central.
This will also affect whom we minister to, knowing that all different kinds of people eschew the wisdom of this age. The Southern Baptist Convention, traditionally, has been a denomination that is to be condemned in the area of racism. In light of the cross, I hope the future years see a very diverse SBC. The Cross-is color blind, but race is not the only factor. There is no type of person that is out of the reach of the sovereign God who is on mission to redeem some from every tribe. The greatest show of power and wisdom exploded on the scene at Golgotha. In light of this, racism, classism, sexism, social elitism, etc. are strictly condemned in light of the work of cross—the work of the cross is a cross-cultural work.
The cross will affect how and by what means we attempt to build a church and how we “do church”- “Number games” are always the temptation for the gospel minister. The recognition that comes from grand numbers is coveted. However, the measure of the cross means we seek one “well done” and that does not come from the lips of mere men. Christian ministers are servants and God will hold them accountable for how they build and handle the church of the living God. Carson says, “God cares about His Church, and he holds its leaders accountable for how they build it” (75). So the minister must avoid distracting from the gospel, coveting the notoriety of the world or the denomination, heresy, apathy, focusing on peripheral matters as “hills to die on”, superficial conversions, and as Carson puts it, “Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying love” (83). Carson’s note about “entertaining to death” is especially applicable to our current context. Innovations are great, but we must be careful that they do not distract or detract from the gospel (as I hear Danny Akin often say). Carson continues, “(This) will build an assembly of religious people, but it will destroy the church of the Living God” (83-84). In light of the cross, we must not seek to work through our own innovations and plans and in so doing sideline the gospel. David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, relayed the idea that it is possible to get to the end of our ministry and realize we have done our gospel work without the Spirit. This is not to say that we do not seek to contextualize and be relevant, but if we do this to the disregard of the Spirit, it is counter-intuitive to the gospel and is to our detriment, shame, and ignorance. Carson gives an example of how we love to be so “smooth” and pretty in our services. He speaks of the transitions of the stage done through the prayer time. The time when we are addressing Lord of the Heavens and Earth, we spend as a stage change. He says rather poignantly, “Has the smoothness of the performance become more important to us then the fear of the Lord?”(38). There is something here for us to chew on and digest for some time. If we build a ministry on personality (no matter how winsome), entertainment, programs, or any number of other things (not in and of themselves evil) then we are not focused on the cross and it is doubtful that real disciples are being made. In light of the work of the cross, we should be fearful and somber of how we play games in church because on the final day we will be held accountable for how we do this.
Finally, it means that we will be humble in how we “do church”. He says, “Is there nothing to be gained from wide exposure to the company of saints in many parts of the world who have expressed their adoration of the Savior with richness of hymnody we can never exhaust, but which we ignore to our detriment” (89). There have been some great things written on contextualization at “Between the Times”, it is something that should be at the forefront of our minds. The NT church did not have pianos or organs, much to the chagrin of many in our more mainline SBC churches. So we all contextualize. We must be careful as younger ministers not to stick our noses up at the tastes of the older, just as they should be careful in avoiding the same prejudice toward us. The way of the cross promotes humility; this will encourage peaceful dialogue about differing agendas, including topics like music styles. Young people need to be careful here of arrogance and older folks need to be careful of obstinacy. Perhaps we should all strive to appreciate a wider variety of worship styles and ways to do ministry.
The cross will affect our pride and it will make us servants willing to suffer -Carson says of the modern Western Evangelical attitude that it is “deeply infected with the virus of Triumphalism, and the resulting illness destroys humility, minimizes grace and offers far too much homage to the money and influence and ‘wisdom’ of our day” (29). Unfortunately, our SBC churches love the idea of triumphalism. We love to say we are the biggest and the baddest. Do not get me wrong–I love the SBC. And I wish to remain a servant in the SBC until death do we part, but we have to be honest here. We have fallen in love too many times with ourselves, our plans, and our programs, instead of with the cross. The cross shames that kind of thinking. Also, our congregations are filled with those that bask in the blessings of the West. Again this in and of itself is no bad thing as this prosperity makes many things for the sake of the kingdom possible. But western prosperity can also so easily ensnare us and cause us sideline the gospel. Carson’s quote helps get to the heart of the matter, “Many of us are well-to-do… with little incentive to live in vibrant anticipation of Christ’s Return. Our desire for the approval of the world often outstrips our desire for Jesus’ ‘well done!’ on the last day” (108). A rabid focus on the cross will help us obliterate that kind of thinking; instead, we will long to hear those words, words from the lips of the one who hung on the cross for us.
A Final Word here: A Cross-Focus will help us create ministries that stand the test of time: Regrettably Southern Baptists have example after example of churches that are built on what amounts to “wood, hay, and stubble” (I Cor. 3). The ministries of many do not stand the test of time. How often do we see churches that seriously decline within one generation of a leader leaving? Instead, the cross should compel us to leave behind ministries that will go on, that will continually transfer the faith from one generation to the next in that location. The cult of personality is too strong in our convention; the light of the cross is too weak. We should seek to build ministries anchored to one personality—Our Lord Jesus Christ! Here are a few thoughts for pastors on what this might look like in our local churches (much of this I also gather from watching godly men who are doing this well, like my pastor Dwayne Milioni):
Carson’s focus on the message of 1 Corinthians delivers wonderful principles for the gospel minister. I hope that the implications I have drawn over the course of this three-post series are faithful to his work. I write this as a challenge to friends and to myself so that we would constantly keep the cross at the center of our ministries. I hope that this also can be a good reminder to the older, godly men in whose footsteps we will follow as future pastors. In that light, may we never allow personalities, personas, and programs to dominate our outlook. Instead, may we see ourselves as servants compelled to live understanding the cross. May this affect our creed and conduct. This may not make us “successful” or popular by world’s standards, but neither were Jesus or the apostles, instead it will make us a people who hope to know nothing “except Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
Again, if you have not read Carson’s “Cross and Christian Ministry” I highly recommend it. It is a short read, but it is full of pertinent information for those of us that aspire to be faithful gospel minist
From time to time, here at Baptist21 we will post a question posed to some of our faithful forefathers. Today I post a query that was posed to the Philadelphia Baptist Convention in 1748. We would like to hear from you. How would you, had you been a member of the convention, answered and advised this church? In a few days, I will post the answer from our Philadelphia brethren.
Query posed from the Church at Horseneck in New England:
1. “Whether to deny the foreknowledge of the eternal God, concerning all future evil as well as good, be not a fundamental error?”
The Association’s answer to 1. “We look upon such an opinion to be directly repugnant to Scripture; therefore exceeding erroneous and pernicious. First, because it supposes God imperfect, and so no God. Hebrews 4:13. Secondly, If so, there would be no room for the divine fall of man, which is contrary to express Scripture Testimony. Thirdly, It is an error, which, in its nature and consequences, doth oppose and tend to overthrow the whole Christian Religion, Acts 2:23, 4:28.”
2. “Whether a member of the church holding such an opinion, endeavors to propagate it, and obstinately persists in it, is not worthy of the highest censure, notwithstanding he pleads matter of conscience?”
The Association’s Answer to 2. “We judge such worthy of the highest censure; because a church is to proceed against a person who is erroneous in judgment, as well as against one vicious in practice, notwithstanding they may plead conscience in the affair. Titus 3:10, 2 Thessalonians 3:14.”
The query posed above to the Philadelphia Association over 200 years ago shows that many of issues that we are dealing with are not “new”. Some of these errors go back centuries, and calling the foreknowledge of God into question did not start with Pinnock, Boyd, and others. The Philadelphia brethren were dealing with similar issues; they labeled them for what they were, heresy, “erroneous” and “pernicious.” This kind of question calls into “question” the very attributes of God and the church must call such a teaching and such a teacher to account. The wording used by the Philadelphia Association about this kind of teaching is masterful, we find it “directly repugnant to Scripture” and it “supposes God imperfect and so no God.”
We see that in a negative way, “there is nothing new under the sun” and yet in this example I believe our Philadelphia Forbearers in the faith got it right. Ken Keathley says in a post on the matter of church discipline that clear heretical beliefs are worthy of excommunication if they are persisted in, and the Philadelphia brothers agree, they would have no room in the church pews for members like Boyd and Pinnock, instead they would say such heretical teaching is “worthy of the highest censure.”
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