The Gmail Effect

The date on this WordPress draft tells me I’ve had this post rattling around in my head for over two years now. The JJS debacle has made me think about it more and finally flesh it out and push the Publish button.

So you know how, when you start to write an email to a friend, and you start typing their name in the To: box, and an annoying autocomplete menu pops up with three different email addresses for the same person? Which one does Joe Blow use nowadays? And then you spy the magic word: gmail. Ah yes, joe.blow@aol.com and joe.blow@cox.net are old news, joe.blow@gmail.com — that’s the live one!

I call this the Gmail effect. Why does it work? Because Gmail is simply the best. Nobody that has used Gmail goes and finds some other email product that works better for them. The road into Gmail is one-way. (OK, I’m sure plenty of people are leaving Gmail nowadays due to privacy concerns, but nobody is leaving because they found a better webmail service.)

I see the same effect at play in a number of theological categories. Baptism is a good example. Reformed Paedobaptism is like Gmail — it’s just the best. Some are born in, some convert in, but nobody converts out.

A fuller picture of the baptism landscape would include a variety of other positions, which are connected by what I call “one-way gates”. One position would be ignorant/apathetic. You could stay there all your life, or you could move to any other position — but you would never go back (unless maybe you had a brain injury that uninformed you). Another position is Rome’s regenerative version of paedobaptism. You could be born into that position, or you could convert in from paganism, and you could stay there all your life, but there are a few one-way gates out of this position; one to credobaptism, and one to Reformed paedobaptism (and then from credobaptism, a one-way gate also to Reformed paedobaptism).

I can list many other examples of one-way gates and the gmail effect, like Arminianism–>Calvinism, Premillenialism–>Postmillenialism (including Amillenialism), Dispensational–>Covenantal, Catholic–>(low-protestant effin-gelical)–>high-protestant Anglican/Lutheran/Reformed. If you contemplate the petals of a TULIP, you will realize there is a one-way gate from Hell to Heaven.

And there are other areas where I am not so sure there is significant evidence of one-way gates or the gmail effect, for instance between Theonomy and 2K, or Calvinism and Lutheranism.

It is probably no surprise that this author finds himself at the dead-end (rather, living-end!) of a number of these one-way gates. And it is tempting to use a one-way gate as evidence of trueness (and not merely truthiness). But if one-way gates were reliable indicators of truth (and if all the one-way gates I perceive are real) then there would be a lot more awesome people like me then there actually are. (One counter for this is that the one-way-ness of a gate is no indication of the likelihood of anybody actually passing through it; many people never learn or study about a gate that would take them somewhere else.)

It may be safer to say that a position at the far end of a one-way gate has “tenableness”; what makes a gate admit traffic in only one direction is that the source position is inherently less tenable, and passing through to the destination provides a release of tension.

But there are exceptions to every rule. On the one hand, FV is guilty of going so deep into the Reformation they get pooped out the bottom and end up back in Rome. FV’s versions of Justification and Baptism are essentially Roman anyways, so it’s not surprising that it is common to hear or read of some young visionista or other for whom the light bulb goes off that they are already essentially Catholic, so why not just go all the way? And voila, we have Called to Communion.

And then JJS comes along and screws everything up. This is Mr. Gmail effect (or rather, was). Calvary Chapel–>PCA, with all the other one-way gates that go along with that conversion. He’s sitting in the convergence of all my Gmail effects; he believes all the same things I do — but even better! He is even a champion against the FV, that sect (cult?) of the Reformation that has opened a gate around the side back to Rome. And then, like a horny salmon, JJS swiftly and decisively powers against the natural flow and exits the Reformation.

So what’s the use then? Can one-way gates be accurately measured (how?), or the Gmail effect positively identified? Or are they just illusions, a form of narcissism in which everybody perceives themselves to be central to the way things really work?

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17 Responses to The Gmail Effect

  1. David R. says:

    This is an interesting and amusing analysis. Leaving aside (for the time being) the very good questions you ask at the end (if I may), it’s difficult to stop trying to figure out what could have caused that horny salmon to swim so vigorously upstream (and thus to prove the exception to your rule). And of course I don’t have nearly enough data, but apparently one of those one-way gates he walked (or swam) through—the one leading from the solo scriptura of individualistic interpretation to the sola scriptura of confessional Reformed interpretation—turned out to be a mirage (or so he thinks), and the only real one-way gate actually leading somewhere (so he thinks) is the one leading to sola ecclesia. Of course the price you pay for going through that gate is you have to reverse direction through all the other gates you’ve ever walked through. But maybe if you despise subjectivity enough, and you’re convinced there’s no other escape route, you’ll willingly pay the price (even if your brain is uninjured)….

  2. RubeRad says:

    Thx David.

    I don’t think his transition from solo to sola was a mirage; taking him at his word, he didn’t begin to privately doubt sola until 2008. And as for “only real one-way gate”, are you saying the other one-way gates I mentioned are only approximate, but the gate from Geneva to Rome is one-way with absolute certainty?

    When it comes down to it, what we’re really talking about is a Markov chain, where every “gate” between two states has a probability. In this formal sense, a one-way gate is a transition between two states, such that the transition in the reverse direction has probability 0. And a state with the Gmail effect has all outgoing transitions with probability 0, and the reflexive transition (don’t change states) with probability 1.

    In practice, of course, there are no real one-way gates. I do know one guy who transitioned from reformed paedobaptism to calvinistic credobaptism. As noted the Reformation does not exhibit a pure Gmail effect, because (at a minimum) the FV tapped a small trickle back to Rome. And now JJS has tarnished the Gmail effect of TR/W2K.

    Another way to think of it, we could split Rome into two distinct states: B.C. and A.D. (Before Calvinism, and After Dordt, of course). It may be that the gate(s) from Geneva to Rome(A.D.) are essentially one-way, I don’t have any feel for how many Tiber-swimmers turned back when they found the waters too chilly. But Heb 6 does not give much hope.

  3. David R. says:

    Rube,

    Thanks. I didn’t mean to say that his transition was a mirage, only that he ultimately concluded that the “gate” leading from solo to sola was a mirage (in the sense that the latter is really no less individualistic and subjective—so he argues—than the former).

    As one who has, over the years, also made many of the transitions that you describe (e.g., dispy to covenant, credo to paedo, etc. etc.), I think your model accurately represents the way we tend to think about our advancement along a continuum from relative ignorance/darkness to a greater degree of knowledge/clarity, which ultimately leads us by increments to Reformed confessionalism. And of course (as you point out), it’s impossible to move in the opposite direction (i.e., from knowledge to ignorance).

    But since erroneous doctrine is a function of sin as much as ignorance, your model doesn’t tell the whole story I guess, and we do indeed see regression from positions of truth to error. In both your examples, FV and JJS, there is a rejecting (ultimately) of via mediapositions (i.e., the visible/invisible distinction and sola scriptura respectively) and a swinging of pendulums to an extreme/erroneous position.

    Thus the gate from ignorance to knowledge swings one way, but there are also gates that swing backwards (or trap doors?) leading from truth to error.

    Not sure how intelligible this is or if it helps at all….

  4. Jeff Cagle says:

    For the record, I’ve a gmail account and some others, and I use the others more often. 🙂

    I would be really interested in quantitative studies of denominational switching. Are the gates truly one-way, or is that just how they seem?

    Also, historically, credobaptists were to a man ex-paedobaptists. Perhaps the one-way-ness of the gate depends on cultural factors?

  5. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    RubeRad: “And then JJS comes along and screws everything up. … He’s sitting in the convergence of all my Gmail effects; he believes all the same things I do — but even better! He is even a champion against the FV, that sect (cult?) of the Reformation that has opened a gate around the side back to Rome. And then, like a horny salmon, JJS swiftly and decisively powers against the natural flow and exits the Reformation.

    So what’s the use then? Can one-way gates be accurately measured (how?), or the Gmail effect positively identified? Or are they just illusions, a form of narcissism in which everybody perceives themselves to be central to the way things really work?”

    There may be something to that last question. Radical 2K, Escondido 2K, neo-2K, take your pick, just may exemplify a form of theological narcissism in which its most vocal proponents perceives that lack of Radical 2K doctrine and practice is central to the way that the Gospel and the Church has been really compromised.

  6. matt says:

    Jeff, Thanks for saying “I’ve a gmail account… instead of I’ve got….
    I’m so sick of bad grammar.

  7. RubeRad says:

    Fine, but backing off from the smaller niche of x2K, what about the Reformation? My church is full of converts from Rome and/or effin-gelical dispensational arminian baptists. I’d guess less than a quarter of my church actually grew up reformed. Is there some church movement out there I don’t know about that is full of people who used to be calvinistic, paedo, a/postmill, reformed, and then they “saw the light”, and they see themselves as experiencing a gmail effect, and they observe one-way gates in all the opposite directions?

  8. RubeRad says:

    Why is that wrong? I lived in England for a few years, and the properest Queen’s-english among them was always talking like “I have got the biggest news!” or “Have you ever (done this or that)” “Yes, I have done.”

  9. RubeRad says:

    I would also love to see studies of the dynamics of denominational demographics. I’m not sure who would do them other than Barna.

    A few years back I heard an interesting WHI with a guy who wrote a book about the exodus from the PCUSA, I wonder if he had a breakdown, but still that would be only a small part of the picture.

    And any such study would have a hard time picking out the doctrinal concerns we would be interested in; probably church-hopping is more commonly driven by issues of personality, politics, or proximity, rather than doctrine, dogma, and doxology.

  10. RubeRad says:

    Oh, and yes, the historical reality of centuries of paedobaptism means that the first credobaptists (anabaptists) created a new gate. The probabilities on every link of the markov chain are subtly changing all the time. Therefore I also wonder whether the current one-way gates and Reformed gmail effect I observe (a) is real, but (b) is only recent, and (c) may only be temporary! That would explain why NAPARC churches are not dominating the religious landscape.

  11. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Thesis: “Radical 2K, Escondido 2K, neo-2K, take your pick, just may exemplify a form of theological narcissism in which its most vocal proponents perceives that lack of Radical 2K doctrine and practice is central to the way that the Gospel and the Church has been really compromised.”

    Response: “Fine”

    I appreciate your recent posts, RubeRad. Good job, major points and kudos for the intellectual and spiritual honesty.

    As regards the rest of your comment, I don’t know. Thanks and God bless.

  12. RubeRad says:

    Horton’s most recent suggests the current configuration of one-way-gates and gmail effects may indeed be novel: “We are familiar now with the movement of many younger evangelicals into the Reformation orbit.”

    Also this: “while many Roman Catholics have embraced various versions of Protestantism, I think we can expect some traffic in the other direction.”

    Looking forward to: “In my next post I’ll interact more directly with the reasons that I’ve heard some recent converts to Rome offer.”

  13. RubeRad says:

    in other words:

    Response: “I don’t know”

    If all you read was “Fine” you should know I don’t mean “Fine, you’re totally right about that”, I mean “Fine, I understand you disagree on this more particular issue, but do you have anything useful to say about a more general issue about which we presumably agree”. I.e. maybe instead of “fine” I should have said “whatever”

    I don’t mean to be dickish, but I can’t tell whether you’re being sincere or sarcastic.

  14. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    As regards to your more general issue of “Gmail Effects”, maybe instead of “I don’t know” I should have said “whatever.”

  15. RubeRad says:

    Well in case you were sincere, I do appreciate the sincere compliments, and apologize for dickishness.

  16. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    RubeRad, I am genuinely sincere about appreciating your recent posts, especially the one concerning Trueman’s critique of Stellman and his concerned warning about R2K’s over-elevation of ecclesiology.

    Pax.

  17. gospelmuse says:

    I remember the day when I asked Jason Stellman if he thought the Gospel could be the regulative principle of faith and life. He responded honestly…”I never thought about it that way.” How unfortunate. I’m gonna guess he never did and probably never will. Shame.

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