There is some interesting interaction going on at Roger Olson’s blog between Olson and Michael Horton concerning how Arminianism’s view of salvation should be defined.

Olson begins by taking Horton to task. Although Olson considers Horton to be one of the more gracious Calvinistic voices out there, he take issue with something he said in his book Christless Christianity.

Olson says,

“On page 44 he writes that “Arminianism still holds that salvation is a cooperative effort of God and human beings.” . . . To Mike I say: Please!  When you are saying what Arminianism holds, say what Arminians really say and don’t put words in our mouths.  Sure, you can say “This is what I think Arminianism SHOULD say even if it doesn’t.”  True, classical, historical Arminianism does NOT hold that salvation involves any “effort” of human beings–certainly not on the same level as God’s. 

[…}

It’s just as ludicrous to describe the Arminian belief about the roles of God and a repentant sinner in salvation as a “cooperative effort.”

Horton’s description of Arminianism is more generous than many Calvinists’, but it still falls short of complete honesty and violates one of my basic rules of engagement between Calvinists and Arminians: Always express the other view the way people who hold it express it and only then say what’s wrong with that.  Again, Arminians do not say that salvation is a “cooperative effort.”  What we say is that God won’t save anyone without their free consent.  But we adamantly deny that conversion involves “effort” as if the person being saved must do some (good) work to be saved.

[…]

What if I published something saying that “Calvinism holds that God is the author of sin and evil?”  Calvinists would rightly howl in protest.  Then I could say, “Well, that’s how I see it.”  Then, they would quite rightly protest that how I see it is not how they say it.  They’re right.  What I say is that Calvinism’s doctrines of providence and predestination lead to the good and necessary consequence that God is the author of sin and evil even though they (almost) all deny it. 

What Horton should have said is that “Arminians deny that salvation involves human effort, but I think their theology implies that.”  Okay.  I disagree, but I can respect that.  I would have no right to protest that even though I would argue against him.

When, oh, when are evangelicals going to stop this uncharitable and even unChristian habit of setting up straw men out of others’ theologies and then chopping them or burning them down as if they had really scored a point or two? 

Horton’s error doesn’t quite rise to the level of demagoguery, but there’s plenty of that going on and this is too much like it for Mike’s comfort.  He should correct what he said publicly.”

Horton does respond on Olson’s blog.

“Dear Roger,

On that same page I carefully distinguish Arminianism from the Pelagianism that we both agree pervades much of American Protestantism today. As you note, I refer to your Arminian Theology on that count and express appreciation for Tom Oden’s defense of the gospel.

Nevertheless, I add, “Arminianism still holds that salvation is a cooperative effort of God and human beings.” The first post responding to your critique, by an ardent Arminian, seems to justify my statement. Synergism, which you acknowledge as an Arminian tenet, means working together. If one does not cooperate with grace, one will not be regenerated and persevere. If one does cooperate with grace, one will be regenerated and persevere. Am I correct in describing the Arminian position like this? If so, then it is a cooperative effort of God and human beings. I’m not sure how saying that constitutes demogoguery, if synergism is in fact the Arminian view and a fellow Arminian could see no reason for objecting to that description.

Thanks, Roger, for your otherwise encouraging remarks!”

What do you think? Who is right? Is it legitimate for Arminians or Calvinists to say that Arminianism is cooperative?


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    131 replies to "Is Arminianism Cooperative Justification?"

    • Dr Michael

      Horton is right, but the implications of what he is saying is not something any Arminian wants to say out loud. Notice Olsen’s repsonse to Horton:

      “That makes it sound as if the human role is somewhat equivalent with the divine role.”

      Cooperation need not be defined as a 50/50 work. Even if 1% of it is man, and 99% is God that’s still cooperation.

      Also, it’s interesting that Olsen says, “always express the other view the way the people who hold it express it” when he clearly said earlier in one of his most popular posts that “The God of Calvinism wants many to go to hell.”

    • bethyada

      Olsen is right.

      The problem with using the word synergism is that it removes the specifics of the situation to a word, then discusses the word even though the word carries other connotations. I say salvation is does by God, thus monergism, but the a Calvinist comes along and states that this word apples specifically to Calvinist perspective of salvation. You can’t say that synergism means that God’s needs man’s consent, and then turn around and say that synergism means that man is helping God. Enough with the equivocation.

      Perhaps we should call the Arminian position moner-agree-ism?

    • traever guingrich

      i would agree with horton. cooperate means to go along with. it is not an effortless action. if someone’s house is on fire and they do not cooperate by not letting the firemen in the door then they are not working with them. if they do cooperate and allow them in then they are working together. cooperation is synergism and it is the work/action/deed needed from man in an arminian system. horton is right and olsen just doesn’t like his view being characterized like that, even though it is an accurate characterization.

    • traever guingrich

      any system with “consent” originating in the heart of an unregenerate man is synergistic. we do not need to redefine the historical meaning for those that don’t like the repercussions of that. monergism is more detailed than merely claiming salvation is done by God. it is salvation by God ALONE. while arminians may claim they can likewise affirm this, a study of their idea of so-called “consent” proves otherwise.

    • Jugulum

      bethyada,

      Olsen didn’t object to the term “synergism”; he uses “evangelical synergism” himself.

    • Dr Michael

      Olson says in his book, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, that “…“…Arminians recognize also that cooperation of the human will is necessary because in the last stage the free agent decides whether the grace proffered is accepted or rejected.”

      Theological Synergism is defined as “the doctrine that the human will cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the work of regeneration. ”

      Sounds pretty similar to me.

    • Jugulum

      CMP,

      I think Olsen is more concerned with “effort” than with “cooperative”.

    • JKMTWO

      The number of times I agreed to be saved, and then relented- thousands

      The number of times God chose to save me- ONCE

      Doesn’t sound to sound to cooperative to me.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      This is all very interesting, but does Olson and Horton both hold to Lordship Salvation?

    • Kyle Dillon

      It’s all a matter of semantics. Arminians are generally comfortable with the terms synergism and cooperation, provided that the choice to believe/receive God’s salvation is distinguished from a human “effort” or work.”

      But I think that both sides would agree that:

      1) In Calvinism, God’s grace is a necessary AND sufficient cause of an individual’s salvation.

      2) In Arminianism, God’s grace is a necessary first cause, but it is NOT sufficient; a free choice (in the incompatibilist libertarian sense) is required of the individual to receive salvation.

    • bethyada

      jugulum, Olsen may be fine with the word, but it seems like Olsen’s opponents see meaning in synergism that Arminians do not. The problem is equivocation and hence miscommunication.

      If I used the word vehicle, and could not resolve an argument because I intended to mean land transport (cars and trucks) and my opponent meant all transport, land, sea and air; then we have equivocation on a word that is not helpful to the argument.

    • bethyada

      Kyle, well written.

      For the others this is not a debate about whether Arminianism is works based, or whether men do in part save themselves. It is clear what the Calvinists think about this.

      It is about whether it is reasonable for a Calvinist to say that he thinks the tenets of Arminianism leads to the logical conclusion of cooperation, and therefore Arminians do in fact think that men cooperate in salvation.

      Either the Calvinists are right about Arminian conclusions, or they are wrong because they do not follow Arminian reasoning. But even if they are correct, they cannot justify claiming Arminians think something that they do not. All they can say is Arminians believe A and B but this is contradictory because of C.

      This is exactly why Olsen used the example of the goodness of God. Some Arminians claim that Calvinist theology makes God and Satan indistinguishable. But they do not argue that Calvinists think God is indeed evil (because Calvinists don’t), rather they state that Calvinists think God is good and therefore their belief system is contradictory.

    • Jason

      Most Arminians would agree that Arminianism is synergistic, and that synergistism means “working together,” but a lot hinges on the definition of “work.” Arminians understand it as cooperation, while Horton defines it as “effort.” In fact, Horton seems to think “cooperation” and “work/effort” are the same thing. Arminians do not see it that way. All of the effort for man’s salvation is on God’s end. We can only cooperate with God in salvation, in the sense that we freely allow Him to save us.

      And I fail to see how consent can be construed as effort. What Arminians are committed to is nicely captured by Olson’s statement that “God won’t save anyone without their free consent.” It is in that sense that both God and man are involved, and that is what we mean by synergism.

    • Jugulum

      bethyada,

      “jugulum, Olsen may be fine with the word, but it seems like Olsen’s opponents see meaning in synergism that Arminians do not.”

      My point was that this isn’t the issue in Olsen’s discussion with Horton. (It doesn’t make sense to say that “Olsen is right, there’s a problem with using ‘synergism'”, when Olsen isn’t objecting to “synergism”.)

    • Jugulum

      BTW, I agree with Olsen’s point about the use of terminology to describe opposing views–you should use terms the opponent will accept. At least, you should distinguish between (1) “this is what they believe” and (2) “this is what their beliefs imply” or “they don’t see it this way or won’t admit it, but they believe ____”.

      I don’t get the impression that Horton disagrees–he was asking (roughly), “If you accept the ‘synergism’ terminology, why do you have a problem with ‘cooperative effort’?”.

      And I think Olsen gave a fair answer–he has a problem with the word “effort”.

    • JS Allen

      Although I’m a Calvinist, I think bethyada is right about this (as is Olsen)

    • Kevin Jackson

      Cooperation really has two definitions. 1) Acting in conjunction with others, 2) being compliant.

      If I help my wife do the dishes, we are cooperating in the first sense.

      If an officer arrests me and I don’t resist, I am being cooperative in the second sense.

      As an Arminian, I would acknowledge that we cooperate in the second sense, but not the first.

    • Dr Michael

      bethyada and Kevin, how do you reconcile what you are saying with what Dr. Olsen actually says in his book, “cooperation of the human will is necessary because in the last stage the free agent decides whether the grace proffered is accepted or rejected.”?

      Kevin, which of your definitions did Olsen mean here? To make a decision is not simply to stand by and “not resist.”

      What did Olsen mean here with the word “cooperation”?

    • mbaker

      Maybe some of you guys don’t realize it but these absolute rejections of anything other than Calvinism are making some of us who don’t think like Calvin wondering if those of you on this site only accept (by default, perhaps ?) the rest of us as ‘real’ Christians.

      Unwittingly or not, with your condemnation of anything else but total belief in ‘reformed Calvinism’, that is how you are starting to come across.

      Sorry, but I thought it was as Paul said: it is preaching Christ crucified.

    • Hodge

      This really is semantics. Roman Catholics often claim that they’re monergistic as well. It’s all in how you define it. Classical Arminian theology (i.e., that of Arminius himself) may be a case where one simply does not resist, but makes no effort on his own part. However, it seems to me that many modern Arminians are more Wesleyian and are caught up in free will in the positive sense as well (i.e., I must choose in the positive sense). In the end, Person A is saved because he did or didn’t do X in response to God’s work in his life and Person B is not saved because he did or didn’t do X. You can fill in the X yourself, but regardless of what we call it, isn’t the deciding element the human decision? Arminians, sharpen me if I’m wrong.

    • Hodge

      mbaker,

      Seriously? When have you ever heard anyone on this site claim such? Because we argue that X is right and Y is false? How does that imply that those who believe X aren’t saved? That’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think?

    • mbaker

      No, not at all. I think you are simply arguing from an agenda that thinks Calvin’s belief in pre-election is more important others, and often forget it is the belief in Christ crucified that IS foundational to Christianity for all of us. At least, this site seems to be more about discounting the Armianian view than not from the arguments I have read here. I have not seen that with other sites so concentrated on other sites which are about theology,

      I think it’s important to mention here that I don’t think belief in either camp is essential to salvation, although as I said one would certainly reading from some of your arguments that it was otherwise.

    • Hodge

      mbaker,

      Can you point those specific arguments out? People discuss it on this site as they discuss numerous issues that aren’t specifically about Christ and Him crucified, but are issues that have to do with it. It’s Michael’s purpose to move Christians beyond the simple gospel to understanding more mature things about it. So I would not pit them against one another, or be upset about the balance of the discussions between basic gospel and further theological issues (which, I would add, I think Michael discusses quite a bit of both).

    • mbaker

      Hodge,

      I don’t really think I need to do that as anyone who follows this site frequently as I have done since 2007, and has read and considered all the comments, can pretty much see it is definitely slanted toward reformed Calvinism in its stated beliefs about Christianity.

      Perhaps is it you and others who should start stating the gospel message in a more equitable way to include all those of us who don’t belong to either camp.

    • Ryan Schatz

      Is it a work to call out for help due to your acknowledged inability to save yourself? Is it a work to ask for mercy to the only one who can save you?

      Faith is not a work; Paul says precisely this when he says that it is by FAITH and not by WORKS. Why can’t Calvinists understand this? Why must they contradict Paul and claim that faith is a work?

    • John from Down Under

      If I was asked for a special request on my epitaph I would say put this: “Here lies the corpse of a man who desperately wanted to become a Calvinist but (God decreed that he) wouldn’t be convinced”

      And it’s not due to failure to ‘interact with the text’ (uncle Hodge’s frequent appeal 🙂 ), but failing to get past the first grade common sense test, like: If someone hands you a gift and you accept it, this constitutes ‘effort’ and ‘work’ on your part and takes the glory away from the gift giver.

    • Hodge

      “Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

      I think there’s a double meaning here. The first is that the work that must be performed is believing in Him whom God has sent; but the second is that it is a work of God, not of man. I think these are both seen in Ephesians as well. The faith given is not a work of man, but of God. It is also, however, a work. So the issue that Calvinists have is that if faith is a work, then either God must perform this work of salvation through us, or we somehow work it, even if partially, ourselves. Hence, we’re back to the same debate: monergism or synergism, etc.

    • Ryan Schatz

      In the end, Person A is saved because he did or didn’t do X in response to God’s work in his life and Person B is not saved because he did or didn’t do X. You can fill in the X yourself, but regardless of what we call it, isn’t the deciding element the human decision? Arminians, sharpen me if I’m wrong.

      Salvation is fully paid for, but the one who doesn’t turn and believe does not have righteousness credited to his account. That is the Biblical account. If that is what you call synergism, then so be it.

    • Hodge

      “If someone hands you a gift and you accept it, this constitutes ‘effort’ and ‘work’ on your part and takes the glory away from the gift giver.”

      This really depends upon your gospel. If the gospel is just receiving a gift, like jewelry, then that might be analogous; but if the gospel is receiving an invitation to renounce yourself and restore God’s lordship over you, even while you are enslaved to the love of self lordship, then it’s a little more than just accepting jewels. Tied up in it is one’s view of sin and enslavement to it.

    • Hodge

      “Salvation is fully paid for, but the one who doesn’t turn and believe does not have righteousness credited to his account.”

      We all believe this. The issue is whether one’s reception of the gospel is synergistic or monergistic. That’s a different issue.

    • mbaker

      Ah, Hodge, we finally agree on one thing at least :):

      “Salvation is fully paid for, but the one who doesn’t turn and believe does not have righteousness credited to his account.”

      Synergism or monergism, whatever our human definition is, it’s all about Christ in the end.

      That’s where I was trying to get.

    • Ryan Schatz

      Hodge writes,

      We all believe this.

      But to be more accurate the Calvinist would have to say ‘Salvation is fully paid but only for the chosen, and the chosen will turn and believe because God first regenerated them so that they could then choose to exercise faith in him.’

      But that is not what I see the scriptures teaching. The penalty is already paid for every human being. However, only those who exercise faith are then regenerated as an act of God. Only those who redeem the gift certificate are credited with righteousness.

    • Ryan Schatz

      Hodge, regarding John 6:28-29, the passage does NOT say, ‘and this is the work that God requires, that you believe…’, rather it says, ‘and this is the work of God, that you might believe…’. In other words, the works that God is performing in the signs already given by Jesus are so that they might believe in Jesus. Who was Jesus speaking to? Was it not those who later left Him and were only following Him because they had their fill of loaves? God was working so that they might believe, but they were not believing.

    • bossmanham

      I think Arminians need to stop acquiescing to the claim that we’re synergists. It’s like saying someone filling up a hole with water so we float to the top is us working with them when all we have to do to float to the top is not hold onto the bottom. It’s silly. We don’t work with Christ at all. He has done the whole work. We must simply stop resisting Him.

    • bethyada

      Jugulum My point was that this isn’t the issue in Olsen’s discussion with Horton. (It doesn’t make sense to say that “Olsen is right, there’s a problem with using ‘synergism’”, when Olsen isn’t objecting to “synergism”.)

      Fair enough.

      My comment that Olson is right is meant to apply to what he was saying here.

      My comments about synergism are based less on Olson’s comments here and more on how I see this played out elsewhere. For example Hodge’s use of “synergism” above is unlikely to parallel Olson’s meaning.

      I personally find” cooperate” less confusing; then cooperate with God may not mean cooperative effort nor cooperate in salvation to everyone.

      I think the clearest example is either to use analogies like receiving a gift, or talk about how Arminians think that God’s salvation offer is resistible.

    • bethyada

      Ryan, I have never read John 6:28-29 the way you claim. Is your interpretation viable (from Greek). I can’t comment.

      I read it the way Hodge did. Though I don’t see this as Jesus saying belief is a work, Jesus could just be contrasting the question about what work to do with the requirement for faith, not work.

    • gaburkheimer

      This debate seems to have gotten off track. The issue is that we should be irenic; peaceable, accurately representing the others view even if we disagree. This is what I believe set Olson off. Horton’s statement did not accurately represent what he believes as an Arminian. As Olson said, “What Horton should have said is that “Arminians deny that salvation involves human effort, but I think their theology implies that.” Okay. I disagree, but I can respect that. I would have no right to protest that even though I would argue against him.”

      The problem on both sides is that they are not one dimensional. Not all Arminians believe the same and not all Calvinists believe the same either. I think Olson does the same thing when he says, “Arminians deny that salvation involves human effort” I am sure there are some Arminians out there telling Olson, “Don’t put words in my mouth”.

      I have to agree with Olsen on this even though I disagree with him on some of his Theology. I think Horton could have been more precise in his statement and said what he later said here, “Classical Arminian theology (i.e., that of Arminius himself) may be a case where one simply does not resist, but makes no effort on his own part. However, it seems to me that many modern Arminians are more Wesleyian and are caught up in free will in the positive sense as well (i.e., I must choose in the positive sense.)”

    • HarleyVol

      I think that the Arminians ignore the passages such as Romans 3:10 ff & Eph 2:1-10, etc. If no one seeks after God and we are dead in sin, where is it in us to accept God’s grace? If man is totally depraved – the whole of our nature corrupt -how, without a work of God can we ever be saved? And if God does give grace and gives us a new heart then how can one say “I am choosing . . .”. Remember, Jesus said that no can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.
      Our will is not free in the sense of no influence on it – only God has absolute free will. Our wills are influenced by our desires which are corrupted by sin before salvation and by grace and sin after salvation.

    • cherylu

      HarleyVol,

      And I think Calvinists ignore such verses as Acts 17:27 and Isaiah 55:6, among others. Or otherwise they explain them in such a way that they seem to lose the meaning that is in them if you just read them as they are in their context.

    • Ryan

      I find it interesting that Olson criticizes Horton for building a straw man with Arminianism but then Olson himself builds a straw man based on his interpretation of the words “cooperative effort”. Olson claims that Horton is saying that “cooperative effort” implies a specific act done by the benificiary but in reality “cooperative effort” totally includes the person that gives “free consent” as Olson says is the proper description of the classical arminian view.

    • HarleyVol

      I don’t see any problem with those texts for Calvinists. Of course we are commanded to seek the Lord, which is included in the command to preach the Gospel to all. We do not know who are elect, only God does. In context the Acts passage is from Paul preaching to the Greeks in Athens and the Isaiah passage is God speaking and calling for repentance. This is evangelism and in no way contradicts Calvinist theology.

    • Ed Kratz

      Gaburkheimer,

      Well said and I agree. It’s not the disagreements themselves but the mischaracterizations of the competing theological position that is the problem. If we are going to present what the other side believes, we should at least know what that is based on what its proponents say and not “put words in their mouth” as you so aptly put it. Doing the latter only circumvents honest discussions of competing viewpoints.

    • bossmanham

      HarleyVol,

      Arminians believe in Total Depravity.

    • jim

      Ryan #34

      I would tend to agree with your translation of this passage in John 6 . They didn’t understand God had come in the flesh and Jesus simply points to the work of God in him (miracles and signs) . They didn’t believe . The works were done so one might believe who Christ was. I find it rather amusing that one would equate faith with works as well. I believe I would have a hard time denying the Isaiah 55:6 as a call just to the elected. Language at best is strange, arriving at common denominator of thoughts and desires(context) of hundreds of years ago is challenging. Thus I say I believe this or that. I could have been misinterpreting a lot of passages but as CMP often says “My heart won’t accept what my mind rejects.”

    • Rick

      I agree with Gaburkheimer and Lisa. The issue of the post is that misunderstanding (or, in some cases, misrepresentation) of one side’s position. And, on a related note, it is an issue of defining terms.

      We, as Christians, need to make sure we are listening to the other side, and avoid jumping to conclusions.

      The Arminian/Calvinist aspect, and especially Olson/Horton, is a symptom.

    • […] C. Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen points to the discussion going on between Michael Horton and Roger Olsen at Olsen’s blog about how the Arminian view of salvation should be defined. Olsen points to a disagreement over something Horton says in his book, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. […]

    • Jugulum

      cherylu & jim,

      I don’t think you can say that Calvinists ignore Isaiah 55:6. It looks you’re you’re under the impression that Calvinism doesn’t teach that God commands & calls all men to repent–elect and non-elect. But Calvinism does teach there’s a general call to repent and seek God.

      So Calvinists & non-Calvinists don’t disagree over what that verse says, and that verse isn’t surprising to Calvinists.

      The issue here is that you think Calvinism turns God’s general call to repentance into a deception, or a pointless act, or something like that. That’s the argument to be making here–not whether there is a general call.

      You could possibly make a better case about Acts 17:27, because it talks about God’s “hope” and purpose for people.

      Note: This discussion isn’t really on-topic for the post.

    • Ryan Schatz

      #37 bethyada wrote:

      Ryan, I have never read John 6:28-29 the way you claim. Is your interpretation viable (from Greek). I can’t comment.

      Beth, I got my interpretation from the context itself and I used a more literal translation for the English. The work that God does is not injecting select people with faith (and not others) so that certain ones (but not others) will certainly believe Him, but rather saying and doing the things that prove that Jesus is the Messiah so that “whosoever believes” might be saved.

      Jim #43 wrote:

      I believe I would have a hard time denying the Isaiah 55:6 as a call just to the elected.

      Why do you think that this is a call just to the elect? The very next verse says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts…” Yes, it a call to return to the Lord, so this assumes that at some point they were following God, but if they did not return, wouldn’t they perish along with the wicked? I know that Calvinists have an explanation for this one too, but this passage seems to be a call to the unrighteous and wicked rebels to repent or perish. They will only be part of the elect if they repent and submit themselves to God.

      HarleyVol #39 wrote:

      I think that the Arminians ignore the passages such as Romans 3:10 ff & Eph 2:1-10, etc. If no one seeks after God and we are dead in sin, where is it in us to accept God’s grace?

      Good question. But to understand Rom 3 we have to go back to Rom 1&2. Rom 1 describes the Gentiles who say that there is no God. Rom 2 describes the Jews who think they are better than the Gentiles from Rom 1. Further, this passage in Rom 3:10ff is quoting Psalm 14, and Ps 14:1 tells us who it is talking about, “The Fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.” So Rom 3 does not include Paul as the author and others who are seeking God, but those who deny Him or comdemn themselves by judging others.

    • HarleyVol

      bossmanham — you say that Arminians believe in total depravity, but do they believe that men are totally corrupted in all aspects? If so, then that makes my case.

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