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The Need for Theology in Counseling
From the beginning, human change depended upon counseling. Man was created as a being whose very existence is derived from and dependent upon a Creator whom he must acknowledge as such and from whom he must obtain wisdom and knowledge through revelation. The purpose and meaning of his life, as well as his very existence, is derived and dependent. He can find none of this in himself. Man is not autonomous.
“In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1) says it all. Man needed God’s word from the outset—even before the fall. His revelatory Word was necessary to understand God, creation, himself, his proper relationships to others, his place and functions in creation and his limitations.
Countrary to Carl Rogers’ views,1 which have been accepted as the preferred counseling stance of so many ministers,2 man did not come from God’s hand with all the resources that the would ever need prepackaged within. Instead of the “autonomous” being that Rogers (and his system) contemplates as the ideal end product of non-directive counseling, the Bible teaches that man was made for God (Rev. 4:11) and dependent upon Him (Acts 17:28). Man was created as a dependent being. Any attempt to transform him into an autonomous being not only constitutes rebellion against the Creator, but is bound to fail. The tragic circumstances with which counselors deal bear unmistakable traces of this sinful rebellion which from the fall onward has been the root of the bitter fruits of human chaos and misery. It is this basic rebellion—thinking we can go it alone—that lies behind, and is the occasion for, so much counseling. To offer more of the same (as do counselors who stress autonomy), therefore, is to encourage more (not fewer) problems.
Whenever people try to live on their own (whether as the outworking of the sinful propensities of their corrupted natures or as the result of following a system like Rogers’), they must fail miserably. I mean that literally: they not only fail inevitably in the course of time (they must, because they were constituted dependent creatures), but their failures bring misery upon themselves and those around them.3
Man is dependent upon his Creator and Sustainer for all that he is, has and knows. He was created for a life of joyful, grateful, dependence. It is upon the last one of these three elements, in particular, that I should like to focus attention for a few pages: human knowledge.
From the beginning, God’s Word was a necessary factor in human existence; that need did not begin with the fall. Man does not (and did not) live by bread alone; life requires a Word from the mouth of God. Without that Word, a human being has no personal ability to understand, make sense out of, or know how to use the world in which he lives. He doesn’t know the ways of living with others, and he can’t properly relate to God. As the existentialists have observed, such life is absured.
Life without God’s Word is absurd (it is sheer vanity, as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it) because capacity for knowledge (understanding of facts, properly interpreted and related) is derived, not native to human nature. That means that from the creation on, man was made to be molded by counsel (which is the directive Word of another, given from the outside).4 Meaning, purpose and function depended upon this interpretive Word. General revelation (in creation) itself does not provide any such interpretation. Without God’s Word, therefore, misery was bound to follow. This was inevitable (among other things) because the universe (and man within it) would be improperly interpreted. It would appear chaotic and absurd, and human choices and decisions would be made on the basis of no solid standard. The plague of relativism would descend upon man.
Human beings were created morally and physcially good. But the development of neither side of man was complete. Perfection, while admitting of no flaws, allowed for advance (e.g., eating of the tree of life with its new effects). Adam, before the fall, had not yet reached those states of perfection that are now attained (1) in the intermediate state at death,5 or (2) in the final state when the body as well as the spirit attains resurrected perfection.6
Man’s relationship to God, then, was to be a growing one. In the garden he had only begun to enter into the possibilities and potentialities of human existence. These all lay before him. Further development of knowledge, experience, etc., was anticipated in such commands as “be fruitful and multiply” and “subdue the carth.” How that first command would be followed (with all of the consequent social and political implications of the conduct of human affairs among a race), and what the subduing (or bringing under human control) of the earth would produce in the course of scientific and political activities, would depend upon the regulatory and interpretive revelation of God’s Word. Change, then, even developmental changes in a perfect man, always depended upon God’s counsel.
Man was created perfect, but that does not mean that he was ever able to live on his own. Perfection itself implies an acknowledgment of his dependence upon God’s revelation. By counsel (he didn’t decide to do it on his own) Adam named the animals. By counsel he dressed the garden. By counsel he learned of the tress in the garden and the proper use of them (as well as the possible consequences of misuse). All this came after creation, to man who was made to be dependent on God’s counsel for all his life, and who was capable of being changed and developed by that counsel.
That is the first crucial factor to grasp at the outset: man was created in such a way that for his own good, and God’s glory, it was necessary to depend upon divine counsel and to be changed by it.
If man had obeyed God’s counsel faithfully, he would have been changed into a being possessing the eternal life that somehow inhered in (or was symbolized by) the tree of life.7
But something happened that led to the misery we have already mentioned: man turned from God’s counsel to heed Satan’s counsel. In doing so, Adam attempted to achieve independence of God and to assert his own autonomy. He accepted the false counsel to eat and the lie upon which it rested: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (knowing good and evil is an expression that means knowing everything8). Following false (evil) counsel plunged mankind into sin with all its miseries.
The Adamic rebellion only pointed up the futility of any such attempt at autonomy. Confusion and heartache resulted, humanity was subjected to fear, ignorance and death, and—as it turned out—man had not become autonomous at all. He had only exchanged a holy, beneficent and liberating counsel for a devilish, demonic, enslaving one. In following Satan’s counsel, he lost the freedom and capacity to do good and to follow God’s good counsel. He became a slave of sin and Satan. In opting for Satanic counsel, he once more demonstrated (in a perverted way) the very facts of his creation:
(1) he was dependent upon oustside counsel;
(2) he was capable of being changed by counsel.
Only (tragically) the counsel that he chose to follow brought misery and slavery rather than the promised joy and freedom.
It is clear, then, that from Adam’s time on there have been two counsels in this world: divine counsel and devilish coun
Throughout the course of human history both godly and ungodly counsel always have been present, vying for man’s acceptance. The history of individuals, families and even nations, has stemmed directly from whichever one of these two counsels was followed. There is no third counsel, as the psalm clearly indicates. There are just two ways to go: Satan’s way or Go’s way. Man has no counsel that is strictly “his own.”9 If he rejects God’s counsel, whatever counsel be follows instcad turns out to be Satan’s counsel. Man was made to follow another’s counsel; he will do so. He cannot throw off his dependency. Knowingly or unwittingly he always depends upon Satan or God. He was made to be motivated and molded by counsel.
At the beginning, man walked and talked with God in the cool of the day. Doubtless, God counseled him at such times. The pre-fall fellowship was unbroken and entirely open, and the counsel consisted of positive, good, beneficial revelation calculated to develop man’s full potential. As he was growing under such counsel, he began to grasp something of the potential of language to bring about order and to express concepts. He saw this in his classification of the animals. He experienced something of the joys of the satisfaction and fulfillment of work as he kept the garden according to God’s instructions. He tasted the sweet fruit of understanding and fellowship as he talked with God and communicated with his wife Eve. He discovered that God’s counsel was clear, uncomplicated and plain: “eat from all the trees but one.” In singularly unmistakable words, God indentified and labeled the forbidden tree, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” He even located it for Adam: “[It] is in the middle of the garden.” And with equal clarity and explicitness He warned, “Don’t eat from it or the very day that you do you will die.” This counsel was neccessary for man’s well being. He was dependent upon it and was held responsible for obeying it. Man was a responsible being. It was God’s counsel, true and plain; therefore it was good.
In contrast to God’s counsel—a counsel that was simple, plain, true and beneficent—Satan introduced a counsel that complicated, confused and contorted God’s truth. The third chapter of Genesis tells the sad story.
The first question in history was asked by Satan: “Has God said …?” (vs. 1). By this question, Satan attacked God’s Word i.e., God’s good counsel. “Perhaps His counsel is not so simple, so plain or so beneficent as it seems,” he intimated. The initial question, however, did not constitute a direct attack upon God’s revelation; Satan is much too subtle to do that. Instead, to begin with, he merely cast doubt upon God’s counsel. He questioned God’s Word and His plain intentions. He has never ceased doing so. Ever since, the method has proved effective.
Having sown seeds of doubt10 about God’s Word by questioning it, Satan did not hesitate to continue by distorting it. He misstated God’s command: “Has God said that you may not eat from every tree of the garden” (vs. 1)? This corruption of truth (typical of the way that Satan throughout history has continued to distort God’s truth through his willing servants) was intended both to confuse and to challenge god’s gracious gift of all the trees but one. What once had been plain and simple, he now tried to confuse and complicate. Eve’s response seems to indicate that she was not totally taken in by this approach, but possibly also reveals that she was sufficiently influenced to the point where she altered the commandment by adding the words, “neither shall you touch it.”11
Finally, because he had made inroads by doubt and distortion, Satan was able to attack God’s counsel directly. At this point he turns to his last ruse: outright denial. That a progression is intended is almost certain.12 Satan’s asscrtions that eating would not produce death, and that God forbade eating because He did not want man to be like Him (i.e., autonmous, free of dependence upon God for knowledge and counsel) amounted to calling God a liar and a cheat and attributed bad motives to Him. These three attacks—doubt, distortion and denial—were designed to lead to distrust. Satan’s object was to create distrust in God’s Word.
Through the years the situation has not changed appreciatively. Basically, Satan always has concentrated upon this progression as his principal tactic—with great effectiveness. And as you can see, the attack has been upon God’s Word.
In counseling, this fact has been more than evident; it has been glaring. Within the church the sufficiency of Scripture (God’s written Word) has been challenged. Distrust in God’s way, His verity, ect., has been propagated by those who have set up rival systems offering different counsel (still) purporting to open men’s eyes in one way or another, and still offering autonomy. Satan’s approach has not varied; nor has his success in duping the sons of Adam.
The church, throughout the years, like Adam and Eve, either has been deceived by Satan’s counsel or has found itself in conflict with it. There is no neutral ground. Compromise or conflict are the only two alternatives. We are (hopefully) now beginning to emerge from an era of compromise. Hence the present need for conflict with the counsel of the ungodly. For a long time Satan’s deceitful counsel has prevailed in the church; only during the 70s has a successful challenge been mounted.
Now, at such turning points it is not unusual to discover Christians who unwittingly continue to side with the enemy, and who fight against their brothers when they try to defend and promote the cause of God’s truth in counseling. Frequently this results from good motives, wrongly directed. Yet, their influence is tragic. They not only set back helpful counsel, but confuse many who are in transition. Still, it is not the persons, as persons, whom we must challenge, but their teachings. In bringing such a challenge to the church’s sad compromise with the competition, it is time to proclaim the relevance of the first psalm, with its plain contrast between the counsel of the ungodly and the counsel of God’s Word. Let us look at verse 1.
The tragedy set forth in that psalm again appears in the progression of compromise with evil (Satan’s old tactic, gradual defection from God’s truth, is plainly marked out). First, the compromiser “walks” in the “counsel” of the ungodly. That is to say, he begins to listen to pagan advice and counsel. He approves of falsehood, mistaking it for truth; he begins to confuse and intermix the two. He defends error, calling it truth. “All truth is God’s truth,” he declares. Soon he is found “standing” in the “way” of sinners. Intellectually accepting Satanic counsel leads to living according to it. This is sin; he takes the sinful way. He is seen standing in the path of sinners, believing what they believe, doing what they do
There are Christians today who are so caught up in the views and practices of unbelievers that in their writings they spend more time attacking those who attempt to set forth biblical positions that those who oppose them. They often go to great lengths to defend ungodly counsel.14
This might seem incredible if we did not understand how it comes about. The progression of compromise tells us. No Christian sets out to pervert and deny God’s truth; the process is gradual. It happens in stages, not all at once. That is the warning of Psalm 1. Such compromise with ungodly counsel, therefore, can happen both to counselors and (sadly) to those who are counseled by them.15
It is important to note that neither Genesis 3 nor Psalm 1 leaves any room for a third, neutral counsel. One of Satan’s ruses (as an angel of light) is to convince those who claim theological sophistication to accept error under the slogan, “All truth is God’s truth.” Under that banner nearly every error in the book has been blamed on God!
Of course all truth is God’s truth. But there is only one touchstone for determining whether a given statement claiming to be true is, indeed true: Does it square with God’s standard for truth—the Bible?
And, when compromisers talk about all truth as God’s truth, they call it “common grace.” They abuse this concept too. They mean by such use that God revealed truth through Rogers, Freud, Skinner, etc. God does, of course, restrain sin, allow people to discover facts about His creation, etc., in common grace (help given to saved and unsaved alike), but God never sets up rival systems competitive to the Bible. And God doesn’t duplicate in general revelation (creation) what He gives us by special revelation (the Bible). That is not common grace.16
You can be sure that it is not the result of common grace that two rival ways of counseling exist side by side! God cannot be charged with such contradiction. His common grace is not responsible for false teachings by Freud (man is not responsible for his sin), Rogers (man is essentially good and needs no outside help), or even Skinner (man is only an animal, without value, freedom or dignity). It is nearly blasphemous to claim (as a number do) that such systems, full of errors, falsehoods and anti—Christian teachings, are the product of God’s common grace! Imagine God, in common grace, through these systems, leading people to believe that their problems can be solved apart from Christ! Systems designed to do (apart from the Scriptures) what the Scriptures themselves claim to do are not the product of common grace. This theological language cover is but another of Satan’s distortions.
Compromisers—who spend more time studying Freud’s views of human misery than the Apostle Peter’s—trip and fall over such language and place stumbling blocks in the way of others. Only those who ruminate upon God’s Word, day and night, will resist such temptations to compromise. The Christian counselor must be radically into studying the Scriptures, or he too will be deceived.
It is improper to conceive of Freud, Rogers and scores of others like them as great benefactors of the church, near Christians, or persons from whom we can learn much. No; rather, we must see clearly that they have come peddling the wares of the enemy. They are his agents. They offer systems, counsel and a way of life opposed to biblical truth.17 Their views are not supplemental, but outright alternatives. Surely, they themselves see this clearly enough, and make no bones about it. They plainly say that there is no place for God or His Word. How is it, then, that some Christians are virtually blind to this fact?
In the final analysis, the answer to that question is this—Christians are duped into the acceptance of pagan thought and practice in counseling when they do not think theologically.
Because so many who have assumed places of leadership in Christian counseling have little or no training in theological thought, they have become involved in compromising the faith in various ways. Because their backgrounds are marinated with clinical psychology and psychiatry, it is not surprising to find that this is so. The shallow (and often shoddy) theological thinking exhibited in some of their books, the ease with which they slip into syncretizing, the almost total lack of exegesis (or its results) that is so apparent, are all unmistakable watermarks of the problem.
Theology—a truly large dose of exegetical, biblical, systematic theology—alone can change this situation. Nothing less can keep today’s Christian counselors from rushing in to borrow all sorts of things from the latest vendors of such paltry products. Otherwise they will succumb to the successors of Freud and Rogers just as their fathers patronized them. Only when Christians begin to think consistently from the whole of the Scriptures on any given point (i.e., when they think theologically), will they reject eclecticism in counseling. That is why I have written this book. It is an attempt to encourage theological thinking in relationship to counseling. My hope is that it will help to turn the tide.
THEOLOGY AND COUNSELING
If theology is the answer to eclecticism in counseling, it is important to know what theology is. Some people who think they understand theology may not, and others may have a very feeble acquaintance with it.
What is theology and what is its relationship to counseling? Briefly, let me answer those two questions first, then I shall expand on one or two aspects of those answers.
In its simplest form, theology is nothing more or less than the systematic understanding of what the Scriptures teach about various subjects. Biblical passages concerning any subject—let us say, the teaching of the Bible about God—are located, exegeted in context, placed into the stream of the history of redemption and their teachings classified according to the several aspects of that subject (God’s omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, for instance). Within each classification, these teachings are compared to one another (one passage supplementing and qualifying another) in order to discover the total scriptural teaching on this aspect of the doctrine. Each aspect, likewise, is compared to other aspects in order to understand the total scriptural teaching about that question (and various subjects also are studied in relation to each other for further amplifications and modifications according to the light that one subject throws upon another). Thus, simply stated, theology is the attempt to bring to bear upon any given doctrine (or teaching) all that the Bible has to say about it. Biblical theology also notes the development of special revelation particularly in relationship to the redemptive work of Christ. And the individual theologies of the various writers of biblical books must be studied and related to one another too.1 All of these elements are of concern to us in this book.
Let me partially demonstrate how theology can influence practical living by one brief example. In John 14:13, 14, Jesus says, “I will do whatever you ask in My name. … If you ask Me anything, I will do it.” By itself, that statement seems to constitute a carte blanche in prayer. (And too often those who have little concern for theology have taken it that way; they have preached and counseled, saying, “Whatever you want you can get by praying for it.”) As a result of a failure to use t
In the example just given I have begun to show one of the principal relationships of theology to counseling. Because his counsel is dependent upon biblical principles, a Christian counselor (like a Christian preacher3) must understand all that the Scriptures say on a given topic in order to give fully biblical direction to their counselees.
One of the principal problems with which counselors must deal (often as a complicating problem) when seeking to help counselees is the problem of counselee frustration and discouragement.4 Much of the apathy encountered stems from the failure of counselees to understand the Bible theologically. As the result of quite faulty understanding of the Bible, they take all sorts of actions (like using prayer as a rabbit’s foot) that fail. Then, on the one hand, either doubts about God and the trustworthiness of the Scriptures or, on the other hand, doubts about themselves (“may be Paul could do it, but I’m not Paul”) arise. Such apathy, stemming from discouragement and doubt, is avoidable. Exegesis, with a theological dimension, theologically ministered with careful qualifications communicated in preaching and counseling, could have led to entirely different results. So, where the counselee already has received basically untheological instruction, counselors should anticipate (and look for) complications to original problems that stem from faulty solutions. And, it is imperative that the counselor approach such counselees in full consciousness of what theology can do to help.
In the counseling process, not only is it necessary to have a theological (i.e., a full-orbed, systematically understood) orientation toward the Scriptures to avoid misleading counselees and to correct errors in the thought and practice of counselees, but it is vital also to have this orientation in order to communicate truth authoritatively. The counselor who himself is theologically unsure will communicate his biblical insecurity in the way that he speaks to counselees (and in the way that he writes about counseling). Authoritative proclamation of the Word in preaching and in counseling (not authoritarian5) grows only from a sound knowledge of theology. It was because the scribes and Pharisees were speculative rather than theological in their thinking (cf. the Talmudic mentality) that Christ’s authoritative teaching stood out in such stark contrast to theirs: “He taught them as an authority and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:29). The scribes based their teaching not upon an exegetical and theological understanding of the Bible, but upon the contradictory debates, ramblings and speculations found among the body of materials called the “traditions of the elders” which so often made the clear intent of various passages of no effect (viz., Mark 7:13).
It doesn’t surprise me, therefore, that Christian counselors today lack authority; there is so much speculation and so little theological depth among them.
Typically, the self-appointed Christian “professional” has spent years studying psychology at the graduate level, but has little more than a Sunday School (or, at best a Bible school) knowledge of the Bible. That is woefully inadequate for a full-time counselor or teacher of counseling! Theological principles and method take not only time to develop and learn, but on top of that it takes years of hard effort in applying them to the study of the Scriptures to yield the kind of satisfying results that are needed in counseling.
“Why aren’t there more people who approach counseling biblically?,” people often ask me. The answer is that there are so few persons in the field who are adequately prepared theologically to do so. I am not saying that they are ill-intentioned; to the contrary, there are even some examples of valiant attempts to use what little understanding exists in proper ways—but these attempts simply fall apart from the outset because of the frightful exegetical and theological inadequacy.6 How can a counselor who doesn’t even possess the word “exegesis” as a part of his everyday speaking vocabulary, who has never read Berkhof’s text on theology, who knows nothing of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary, and who doesn’t even understand the problems of theological reflection upon the truths of the Scriptures, begin to develop a biblical system? The very idea is absurd.
In this book, I am assuming at least the basic theoretical theological adequacy of the reader (acquired either before reading, or as he moves along). So I am not trying to teach theology (obviously it isn’t possible or desirable to avoid some such teaching; but what I mean is that I cannot turn this volume into a basic textbook of systematic theology). What I am trying to do is
(1) to demonstrate the counselor’s need for theology, and
(2) to show how theological themes have important (I might say vital) implications for counseling theory and practice.
N.B., it is not possible (even for an unbeliever) to do counseling that is really untheological. All counseling, by its very nature (as it tries to explain and direct human beings in their living before God and before other human beings in a fallen world) implies theological commitments by the counselor. He simply cannot become involved in the attempt to change beliefs, values, attitudes, relationships and behavior without wading neck deep in theological waters. I have shown 7 that these theological commitments may be conscious or unconscious, biblical or heretical, good theology or bad, but—either way—they surely are theological.
If this be true, it is important (1) to become aware of one’s own commitments and the grounds for arriving at and for holding them, (2) to make revisions of these and any future commitments consciously on the basis of satisfactory biblical theology, and (3) to study theology continually for further implications of truths that will lead to a more biblical sort of counseling and will lend a proper sort of authority to that counsel.
Thus, in summary, I may say that the relationship between counseling and theology is organic; counseling cannot be done apart from theological commitments. Every act, word (or lack of these) implies theological commitments. On the other hand, theological study leads to counseling implications. The attempt to separate the two must not be made; they cannot be separated without doing violence to both.8 The separation is as unnatural (and as perilous) as the separation of the spirit from the body. Paraphrasing James, we may say that counseling without theology is dead.
1 For more on these views, see Competent, pp. 78ff.
2 In this reviewer’s opinion because of two reasons: (1) simplicity; (2) supposed lack of risk.
3 The Westminster Standards put it well when they speak of sin and misery in close nexus. Counseling has to do with these two elements: sin, and its consequences.
4 God’s Word is frequently called counsel; viz., Ps. 119:24; Prov. 25:30, etc.
5 Heb. 12:23.
6 Phil. 3:21.
7 Cf. John Murray, Collected Writings (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1977), vol. 2, pp. 48ff.
8 Notes from lectures by Meredith Kline; but see also ibid., pp. 50ff.
9 Cf. John 8:34–44. Thinking he is free, man expresses by word and deed his utter slavery to sin: attempted autonomy itself is the clearest possible evidence of the fact of his discipleship to Satan.
10 Interestingly, the Bible indicates that there is a moral rather than an intellectual base for doubt (James. 4:8).
11 It is also possible, of course, that these words reflect a fuller form of the commandment. However, in the context, where the significance of other distortions is the point, it is likely that this addition indicates a growing change of attitude on Eve’s part toward God and His Word.
12 And this further argues for finding significance in Eve’s form of quotation (cf. previous footnote). Cf. the progression found in Ps. 1:1.
13 Often a desire to be accepted by the world as “scholarly” plays a part in this.
14 Cf. my monograph, The Power of Error.
15 Cf. Lectures, pp. 28–37.
16 For more on common grace, see my Matters of Concern, pp. 89ff.
17 This is not theory alone. London, for instance, reports that Wolpe cured a man’s anxiety over homosexuality by persuading him to disavow his religious beliefs (London, op. cit., p. 120). E. Fuller Torrey (op. cit.) points out that “Jesus was one of the first intended victims of psychiatry.” He says, “Between 1905 and 1912 four books were published in an attempt to prove that Jesus was mentally ill,” p. 81. Hundreds of similar examples show that the competitive nature of pagan systems is basically anti-Christian.
1 Not that their basic theological beliefs differ, but frequently their use of terminology does. These differences must be harmonized.
2 For example, in John 15:21.
3 I have touched on the relationship of preaching to counseling in Matters of Concern, pp. 1, 2.
4 See relevant passages in the Manual concerning the importance of hope.
5 Cf. the Manual, pp. 15, 16; Lectures, pp. 135ff., 187, for a discussion of the distinction between authority and authoritarianism.
6 Actually, such attempts often result in more harm than good; the superficial, untheological use of the Bible confuses and discourages counselees (as well as misrepresents God by misunderstanding the teaching of the Bible). One of the saddest failures of all is to appoint such psychologists as professors in theological institutions to teach prospective ministers of the Word. In the end, they teach them how not to use their Bibles in counseling.
7 Cf. What About Nouthetic Counseling?, pp. 37–39. If the reader has any doubts about this matter, I urge him to read this discussion.
8 It is not my place in this book to develop the idea that theology can (I believe, must) learn from the hard questions brought to it by counseling just as it has been impelled to study and define issues raised by the great heresies. Problems demand biblical answers. Theologians and counselors ought to work hand in hand; their interests are common.
Jay Edward Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling : More Than Redemption, Reprint. Originally Published: More Than Redemption. Phillipsburg, N.J. : Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., c1979. (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resource Library, 1986], c1979), 1.
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.
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