New Reformation Books – Review – C. Castaldo

In today’s post we return to a Reformation 500 book theme – only a few weeks left in our year-long commemoration of the great Reformation of the 16th century!

In Christianity Today’s book review section pastor Chris Castaldo recently reviewed two new books that treat Catholic-Protestant relations in connection with the Reformation. About such a subject he has this to say by way of introduction:

During this 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses—the Reformation’s start by traditional reckoning—we see extremes. Some Christians are foaming at the mouth like pit bulls, going for the jugular of their Catholic or Protestant opponents. Others are so open-minded that their brains fall out of their heads. Such variety is reflected in books, conferences, and in general discussion of things Catholic and Protestant. Two books published this year offer bright shining examples of how the conversation should be engaged—with warm hearts, respectful attitudes, and seriousness about theological detail.

We will skip the first one (treating Peter Kreeft’s Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?), and look at the second one, since that is also one recently added to the seminary library (after a profitable trip to Baker Book House in Grand Rapids).

Roman-not-Catholic-2017This is how Castaldo starts his treatment of the second book:

The second book is Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation by Kenneth J. Collins and Jerry L. Walls, both evangelical Protestants. They share Kreeft’s gift for conveying theological substance with clarity, and their work is extraordinary for its far-ranging scope and depth of analysis. Focusing preeminently on Roman Catholicism, it is written to help Catholics become more informed and to encourage Protestants to more earnestly embrace their rich catholic heritage.

In another paragraph the reviewer summarizes the key points of the book:

Roman but Not Catholic addresses the most important questions in the opening chapters: What do Roman Catholics and Protestants share in common? How does Catholic tradition relate to the church’s various traditions? What is the role of Scripture? And is Rome necessary to enjoy the fullness of apostolic faith? Following from these important chapters are 16 more that probe the most significant topics, including church authority, revelation, sacraments, priesthood, papacy, popular Catholic apologetics, Mary, justification, and more. The conclusion, with the book’s title in mind, asserts that Rome’s exclusive claims inevitably lead to “sola Roma,” a self-referential position that detracts from the genuine catholicity of the church.

This looks to be a good read to me, but I am not sure when I will get at this book. But perhaps you will have time, and if this is the type of Reformation 500 book that interests you, Roman But Not Catholic may be the place to start. For the rest of the reviews of these books, use the link above.

I have read the reviewer’s own book on Protestant-Catholic relations (he is a convert from Roman Catholicism; cf. his Talking with Catholics about the Gospel), and found it profitable. If you are interested in more by him, He blogs at www.chriscastaldo.com.

Second “Standard Bearer” Reformation Issue – Nov.1, 2017

Even though Reformation Day 2017 is past, this year remains the 500th anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation (1517-2017) – reason for celebrating all year – and beyond!

We have called attention to the first special Reformation issue of the Standard Bearer this year – the Oct.15, 2017 issue. Tonight we draw attention to the second special Reformation issue – the Nov.1, 2017 issue (cf. cover image below).

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This one too is a wonderful commemoration of the great Reformation, packed with articles on seven (7) more aspects of God’s work through the Reformers in the service of the church. The articles in this issue range from those on the nature of the church to missions to the family, concluded by an article on “Reformed and always being reformed” – by the Word of God, of course.

For our purposes tonight, we post an excerpt from the first article, “The Earthen Vessels of the Reformation,” penned by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon (IA) PRC. In this piece, Rev. Engelsma points out six (6) characteristics of the Reformers as God’s “earthen vessels.” The fifth one is this:

The reformers were Christ-lovers.

The reformers were characterized by that one essential qualification of an officebearer: they loved Christ. As they went about their work, this motivated them: love for Christ. When they were slandered and abused, this sustained them: love for Christ. When they were praised by others, this grounded them: love for Christ.

Their love for Christ also meant a love for the church of Christ. They exhausted themselves for the church because they treasured her as precious in Christ.

They were not motivated by love of self or a desire for the praise of their own name. They did not compete with their colleagues to win for themselves a higher standing in the church.

Take Calvin, for example. When as a young man he stopped in Geneva for a night, he was cornered by the fiery Reformer, William Farel, who pressed him to stay to reform their church there. Calvin refused. He wanted to hide away in some forsaken corner with his books. But he ultimately relented. Certainly not for his own glory. Not even because Farel was such a convincing salesman. He did so because he loved Christ and loved Christ’s church.

And later, when Calvin’s enemies sought to smear him, they labeled him “that God-intoxicated man.” But what they intended as criticism is his highest commendation. He lived for the glory of his God.

Would to God that all officebearers and church members today be known by their enemies as God-intoxicated men and women!

Reformation Sufferings: The Reformed in the Netherlands – J. Foxe

Huguenot-persecutionAs we mark the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation, we can easily forget that the cause of the Protestant and Reformed gospel was not without its grievous hardships, mostly in the form of intense persecutions, and mostly from the apostate Romish church.

In his speech this past Saturday at the PRC Seminary Reformation conference, Rev. S. Key, in talking about the progress of the Reformation in the Netherlands (Lowlands), reminded his audience that the Reformed believers in that region endured great tribulations for their faith.

That made me think that maybe John Foxe covered this in this famous Book of Martyrs. Indeed, he did, and that is the content of my post this Sunday night.

Having worshiped freely and openly in a faithful Reformed church today, we can thank God for what He worked through the courageous men and women of the 16th century in our motherland. The blood of these martyrs was also the seed of the church – and that blood is still producing fruit in our time. God be praised!

Below is part of Foxe’s account of these Protestant martyrs in the Netherlands, taken from chapter 11, “An Account of the Persecutions in the Netherlands.” You may read the rest of the chapter at the link below.

It would also be worth your while in the next few days to read the other chapters covering the stories of the Reformation martyrs. You will be humbled by the grace of God working in these pious saints. And also inspired to make that martyr’s faith your own. Are WE as committed to the glorious gospel restored to the church in that day?

A.D. 1568, three persons were apprehended in Antwerp, named Scoblant, Hues, and Coomans. During their confinement they behaved with great fortitude and cheerfulness, confessing that the hand of God appeared in what had befallen them, and bowing down before the throne of his providence. In an epistle to some worthy Protestants, they expressed themselves in the following words: “Since it is the will of the Almighty that we should suffer for His name, and be persecuted for the sake of His Gospel, we patiently submit, and are joyful upon the occasion; though the flesh may febel against the spirit, and hearken to the council of the old serpent, yet the truths of the Gospel shall prevent such advice from being taken, and Christ shall bruise the serpent’s head. We are not comfortless in confinement, for we have faith; we fear not affliction, for we have hope; and we forgive our enemies, for we have charity. Be not under apprehensions for us, we are happy in confinement through the promises of God, glory in our bonds, and exult in being thought worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. We desire not to be released, but to be blessed with fortitude; we ask not liberty, but the power of perseverance; and wish for no change in our condition, but that which places a crown of martyrdom upon our heads.”

Scoblant was first brought to his trial; when, persisting in the profession of his faith, he received sentence of death. On his return to prison, he earnestly requested the jailer not to permit any friar to come near him; saying, “They can do me no good, but may greatly disturb me. I hope my salvation is already sealed in heaven, and that the blood of Christ, in which I firmly put my trust, hath washed me from my iniquities. I am not going to throw off this mantle of clay, to be clad in robes of eternal glory, by whose celestial brightness I shall be freed from all errors. I hope I may be the last martyr to papal tyranny, and the blood already spilt found sufficient to quench the thirst of popish cruelty; that the Church of Christ may have rest here, as his servants will hereafter.” On the day of execution, he took a pathetic leave of his fellow prisoners. At the stake he fervently said the Lord’s Prayer, and sung the Fortieth Psalm; then commending his soul to God, he was burnt alive.

Hues, soon after died in prison; upon which occasion Coomans wrote thus to his friends: “I am now deprived of my friends and companions; Scoblant is martyred, and Hues dead, by the visitation of the Lord; yet I am not alone, I have with me the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; He is my comfort, and shall be my reward. Pray unto God to strengthen me to the end, as I expect every hour to be freed from this tenement of clay.”

On his trial he freely confessed himself of the reformed religion, answered with a manly fortitude to every charge against him, and proved the Scriptural part of his answers from the Gospel. The judge told him the only alternatives were recantation or death; and concluded by saying, “Will you die for the faith you profess?” To which Coomans replied, “I am not only willing to die, but to suffer the most excruciating torments for it; after which my soul shall receive its confirmation from God Himself, in the midst of eternal glory.” Being condemned, he went cheerfully to the place of execution, and died with the most manly fortitude, and Christian resignation.

Foxes-martyrsSource: FOX’s Book of Martyrs

PRC Seminary Reformation 500 Conference This Weekend! Come and Join Us! *(Updated!)

ref-500-1The PRC Seminary, with help from Faith PRC’s Evangelism Committee, is holding a special two-day 500th anniversary Reformation conference for this weekend, October 27-28 at Faith PRC in Jenison, MI.

The details of the event may be found on the poster below. A special website has also been created for the conference, which you may find at www.500thReformation.com .

Here’s the latest bulletin announcement that was sent out:

HERE WE STAND, the seminary sponsored weekend conference celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is now at hand. The first speech is at 4:00 on Friday, October 27 with additional speeches at 7:00 and 8:15. The conference will continue on Saturday morning. The speeches will be delivered by our three professors [Profs. R. Cammenga, R. Dykstra, and B. Gritters] and Rev. M. McGeown [missionary-pastor of Limerick Reformed Fellowship, Ireland], Rev. David Torlach [pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Australia], and Rev. S. Key [PRC pastor in Loveland, CO].

Talk to your neighbors and friends and join us at Faith PRC for this important event. The conference will be live-streamed on the Internet for those who are not able to attend in person.

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At the conference there will also be books for sale by the Reformed Free Publishing Association and Gary Vander Schaaf (lots of great deals on books!) and special displays of Seminary library books – new and rare – on the Reformation (There may also be a special PRC archive item on display!). In addition, the Reformed Witness Hour will have a special table featuring its ministry.

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We hope you make plans to attend this significant event! Set aside time this weekend to join us as we celebrate God’s great work in the sixteenth century of reforming His church according to His Word.

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It’s been a great conference so far! Come out this Saturday morning for more edifying and inspiring messages, good books, and blessed fellowship!

Indulgences explained – Books – WORLD

MLuther-HendrixIn the latest installment (Oct.21, 2017) in its “Saturday Series” (which features book excerpts, articles, essays, speeches and sermons that focus on the issues facing Christians today”) World magazine (digital) featured Luther’s exposure of the evil of indulgences as explained by Scott Hendrix in his recent book Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer (Yale University Press, 2015).

World quotes at length from Hendrix’s chapter dealing with Luther’s reaction to the indulgences scandal, and you may read that full excerpt at the link below.

Remembering that this is what prompted Luther’s 95 theses, you will want to read this account. And because, as World editor points out, “a new Pew Research Center survey shows many Protestants haven’t even the foggiest idea of crucial differences between Catholicism and Protestantism,” you will want to know what drove Luther initially to attack not just the practices of Rome but her doctrines.

For our purposes we quote just one paragraph from Hendrix’s book:

Tetzel’s campaign and its claims may have reached Luther’s ears by May of 1516. As provincial vicar Luther was conducting a visitation of Augustinian houses near Meissen and Leipzig. According to a local chronicle, he met Staupitz at Grimma and heard from his superior about Tetzel’s preaching in a nearby town. The chronicle concludes that Luther began to write against Tetzel in Grimma or, as Brother Martin himself phrased it: “I’ll put a hole in that drum.” Preaching at the Wittenberg Town Church in late 1516, Luther urged listeners to cultivate genuine sorrow for their sins and not to avoid the penance they owed by acquiring indulgences. By accepting the penance they would take up their own crosses and become truly contrite. In late February of 1517, he warned worshipers that indulgences taught them how to escape the penalty of sin but not how to avoid sin itself. He ended with a dramatic outburst: “Alas, the dangers of our time! Oh, you snoring priests! Oh, darkness worse than the Egyptian! How secure we are in the midst of the worst of all our evils!”

 

Source: Indulgences explained – Books – WORLD

First 2017 “Standard Bearer” Special Reformation Issue

The October 15, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer is now in print and being mailed, and it is our annual special Reformation issue, marking the 500th anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation (1517-2017).

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The articles in this special Reformation issue reflect “the heritage of the Reformation,” that is, the special truths of the gospel that were restored to the church of Jesus Christ through the various brave and bold Reformers God raised up in the sixteenth century.

From the front cover of the issue you can see some of the topics treated. And from the table of contents posted below, you can see the rest of the important subjects covered in this issue.

You may have noted that I wrote “first” special issue in my heading. That is because we have also planned and will publish a second special issue on the Reformation this year. The November 1, 2017 issue will be “The Heritage of the Reformation” part 2. That too will have a variety of articles on the important truths and practices restored to the church according to the Word of God. Look for that issue in a few weeks!

SB-Ref1-2017-contents

For today, we take a quotation from Prof. D. Engelsma’s article on the controversy over the bondage of the will, a subject of vital concern to the Reformers. Lord willing, we hope to feature another article from this issue as well.

The truth of the bondage of the will, including its being fundamental to the gospel of grace, has its urgent application to churches and professing Christians in AD 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation of 1517. The doctrine is not a petrified mummy safely sealed up in an ancient ecclesiastical museum. It is not a truth to which hypocritical ministers and church members can pay lip service when this is convenient for them (as in the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, although even then the bondage is usually not one of the topics of their celebrations), while effectively denying it in their synodical decisions, in their preaching, in their writings, by their church membership, and by their ostracism and slander of churches and theologians whose only offence is an uncompromising confession of the bondage of the will.

First, applied to the heart of the elect believer, this truth assures him of his salvation in that his willing of God and the good by a true faith carries with itself the assurance that he is saved. His will is free, and it is free because it has been freed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore, he will glorify God on account of his salvation.

Second, confession of the bondage of the will is a fundamental mark of a true church. Confession of the bondage of the will is an essential element of the proclamation of the gospel of grace, and the true church proclaims, confesses, and defends the gospel of grace—the gospel of salvation by grace alone, without the will and works of the saved sinner.

Third, confession and defense of the alleged free will of the natural, unsaved, man, which purportedly cooperates with grace and upon which grace depends, are the mark of an apostate, false church. In our ecumenical age, God’s people need to know this, and to act accordingly.

Why the Reformation Still Matters

The October 2017 issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly magazine), without surprise or embarrassment, features a tribute to the 500th anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation (1517-2017). And we are glad they did.

The issue is packed with informative and inspiring articles on this indispensable movement, and you are encouraged to read them for your personal benefit this month and beyond. Here is a sampling of the main articles:

  1. The Power of the Gospel – Editor Burk Parsons
  2. Luther and His Significance – Stephen J. Nichols
  3.  Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide – Guy P. Waters
  4. The Geography of the Reformation – Ryan Reeves
  5. The Women of the Reformation – Rececca VanDoodewaard
  6. Continuing the Reformation – W. Robert Godfrey
  7. The Ninety-Five Theses (the final article has all 95 as set down by Luther himself)

For today, I reference the first main article, “Why the Reformation Still Matters” by Michael Reeves. I post a few sections from the beginning and the end of his article, for these give answer to his own implied question. Find the rest at the link below, where you will also find the other articles.

Last year, on October 31, Pope Francis announced that after five hundred years, Protestants and Catholics now “have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” From that, it sounds as if the Reformation was an unfortunate and unnecessary squabble over trifles, a childish outburst that we can all put behind us now that we have grown up.

But tell that to Martin Luther, who felt such liberation and joy at his rediscovery of justification by faith alone that he wrote, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Tell that to William Tyndale, who found it such “merry, glad and joyful tidings” that it made him “sing, dance, and leap for joy.” Tell it to Thomas Bilney, who found it gave him “a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy.” Clearly, those first Reformers didn’t think they were picking a juvenile fight; as they saw it, they had discovered glad tidings of great joy.

And this is the end of Reeves’ thoughts:

Now is not a time to be shy about justification or the supreme authority of the Scriptures that proclaim it. Justification by faith alone is no relic of the history books; it remains today as the only message of ultimate liberation, the message with the deepest power to make humans unfurl and flourish. It gives assurance before our holy God and turns sinners who attempt to buy God off into saints who love and fear Him.

And oh what opportunities we have today for spreading this good news! Five hundred years ago, Gutenberg’s recent invention of the printing press meant that the light of the gospel could spread at a speed never before witnessed. Tyndale’s Bibles and Luther’s tracts could go out by the thousands. Today, digital technology has given us another Gutenberg moment, and the same message can now be spread at speeds Luther could never have imagined.

Both the needs and the opportunities are as great as they were five hundred years ago—in fact, they are greater. Let us then take courage from the faithfulness of the Reformers and hold the same wonderful gospel high, for it has lost none of its glory or its power to dispel our darkness.

Source: Why the Reformation Still Matters

Was the Reformation a Mistake? – M. Levering; the Reformation Wasn’t a Mistake – S. Nichols

In the most recent book review section of the Gospel Coalition, Stephen Nichols (President of Reformation Bible College) reviews a new book written by prominent Roman Catholic theologian Matthew Levering (Mundelein Seminary, University of St. Mary of the Lake, IL). That book’s title is  Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine Is Not Unbiblical (Zondervan, 2017), a copy of which I recently obtained for the PRC Seminary library.

The publisher gives this summary and purpose of the book:

Was the Reformation a mistake?

In its actual historical context, it hardly seems fair to call the Reformation a “mistake.” In 1517, the Church was in need of a spiritual and theological reform. The issues raised by Renaissance humanism – and by the profound corruption of the Church’s leaders, the Avignon papacy, and the Great Schism in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – lingered unresolved. What were key theological problems that led to the Reformation?

Theologian Matthew Levering helps readers see these questions from a Catholic perspective. Surveying nine key themes – Scripture, Mary, the Eucharist, the Seven Sacraments, monasticism, justification and merit, purgatory, saints, and papacy – he examines the positions of Martin Luther and makes a case that the Catholic position is biblically defensible once one allows for the variety of biblically warranted modes of interpreting Scripture. At the same time, Levering makes clear that he cannot “prove” the Catholic case.

The book concludes with a spirited response by “mere Protestant” theologian Kevin J. Vanhoozer.

Nichols presents a thorough and proper Protestant response to Levering’s Catholic arguments concerning God’s mighty movement of reform in the 16th century. I appreciated his careful and critical review. As he demonstrates, the core issues were not puny or peripheral.

Under the heading “Necessary Reformation,” this is how Nichols closes his defense of the necessity of true reformation at the time of Luther:

Was the Reformation a mistake? No, it wasn’t, for there are clear and crucial differences between Rome and the reformers on Scripture and the gospel, not to mention the other seven doctrines in this book. The reformers’ efforts centered around a formal principle and a material principle. The formal principle concerns the question of authority. The difference between the reformers and Rome on authority was crystalized at the Council of Trent. There Rome affirmed Scripture as authoritative as it is interpreted through Rome. Hence, we see the value of the sola in the Reformation view of sola scriptura.

The material principle concerns justification and how a person is redeemed by Christ and reconciled to God. The Council of Trent affirmed that we “cooperate with and assent to” grace for our salvation. Here again we see the value of sola in the Reformation planks of sola fide (faith alone) and sola gratia (grace alone). (By the way, Trent’s anathemas against the doctrine of justification by faith alone have never been retracted.)

Levering’s book does succeed in showing these real and clear differences between Rome and those who follow in the Reformation traditions—which is to say, his book succeeds in showing that the Reformation is still necessary.

For the full review, visit the TGC link below.

Source: The Reformation Wasn’t a Mistake

Reshaping Marriage, Reformation Style – “Refo Thursday”

On this Thursday, the last day of August, we bring to mind again the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. And we do so through another video clip from the Church History Institute, which they are sending out each Thursday this year – what they refer to as their “Refo Thursday,” “your weekly throwback to the Reformation.”

This particular video, sent out on August 10, celebrates the Reformation’s reform of marriage, including Martin Luther’s wonderful union with Katherine von Bora. On this day of my own thirty-ninth wedding anniversary to my lovely bride (August 31, 1978!), this post seems appropriate. Verna and I are personally grateful to the Reformers for restoring this aspect of the Christian life to its biblical foundation!

The article that goes with it – “The Reformation of Marriage” – includes these paragraphs at the beginning:

It is a remarkable fact that none of the leading Protestant reformers ended up a bachelor—Luther, Zwingli and Calvin all married in the course of the Reformation. It is remarkable because the prevailing late medieval ideal was that one should not marry in order to devote full attention to serving God. The same ideal prevailed for women. St. Jerome, writing in the fourth century, even offered a kind of algorithm for measuring one’s devotion to God. He assigned a spiritual value of 100 to virginity, but to marriage he assigned a paltry spiritual value of 30. The message was clear: if you really loved God, you would remain a bachelor or bachelorette.

The Reformation is most often identified with theological debates, whether over  justification by faith alone, predestination, or the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. However, it can be argued that the most enduring consequence of the Reformation was not theological developments, but the transformation of the institution of marriage. By 1520, just three years after the 95 Theses, Luther publically renounced clerical celibacy in his famous pamphlet, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.

Read the rest of the article at the link provided, and be sure to watch this video and many others that make up this informative and interesting series. You can sign up to receive the “Refo Thursday” posts each week at the CHI website.

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of the Holy Spirit

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016One of the books we are making our way through this year of remembering the Reformation (500th anniversary!) is Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016).

Each chapter touches on a significant doctrine rediscovered by the Reformers, showing why the return to that particular truth was important for that time and why it is still important for the church today. I have been pleased with and profited by each chapter so far.

The next chapter I read last night is Chapter 7, which treats the Reformation’s rediscovered doctrine of the Holy Spirit under the title, “The Spirit: Can We Truly Know God?” With ample quotes from the magisterial Reformers, the authors show just how significant the truth concerning the Third Person of the Holy Trinity was for that time – and still is.

Here is just a sample of what they say:

Deep heart metamorphosis instead of superficial behavioral change, personal communion with God instead of abstract blessing, and joy-inducing assurance: these were some of the vital benefits of the Reformers’ theology of the Holy Spirit.

But in fact the Reformers’ view of the Spirit really permeated everything they fought for. If he is the giver of life, then salvation must be by grace alone. If he, the Spirit of adoption, freely unites to Christ, salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone – and must be about knowing God with the security of the Son. In fact Calvin showed that the Spirit even keeps us from placing any other authority over that of Scripture, so protecting the principle of Scripture alone. We believe Scripture, he argued, not finally because the church tells us to or because intelligent men persuade us that we can, but because the Spirit opens our eyes and witnesses to us that Scripture is indeed God’s own Word.

Then after quoting Calvin on that point, the authors state this:

The fact that the Spirit is found in every doctrine the Reformers fought for should not be surprising. All the life-giving truths of the Reformation are life-giving because they are to do with him, the giver of life. [pp.140-41]

One more quotation I must share is this little gem from William Tyndale about the Spirit and the fruit He produces in believers – appropriate for the summer season:

Where the Spirit is, there it is always summer, and there are always good fruits, that is to say, good works.

*Nota bene: This book is still available for review if there are interested parties.