Why Certain People Tend to Polarize

Scot McKnight asks why Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and Albert Mohler start a firestorm when they say certain things, while others, such as Tim Keller can believe and say those same things, but don’t get the same heated response. There’s an interesting discussion in the comments, which is worth reading.

This whole topic led me to think about something else, however. Is there a proper role for polarizing figures? I have started a few arguments in my time, but I don’t aim to be polarizing. I aim to bring people together. So I tend to look more favorably on the non-polarizing proponents of any position, those who invite conversation while suggesting new (or resuggesting old) ideas.

At the same time, I don’t think those who build consensus are sufficient to bring out the truth. There have to be voices that challenge the way things are done. There have to be people who generate the annoyance and anger that it takes to get people moving. As an egalitarian, I have to think that Mark Driscoll and John Piper may be good things for the entire discussion and even for my cause.

By this I do not mean that they are promoting my point of view by being radically on the other side. I could equally suggest that someone equally polarizing on my side of this particular issue might also have a beneficial role to play, however much they might annoy me. I’m reminded that the prophets were not always sympathetic, moderate people. They normally preached a radical message and did so often in radical ways.

You may object that the prophets preached truth in radical ways. Of course, those who do speak in polarizing ways all believe they are speaking the truth. But that’s not my point. I believe that people tend not to move due to moderate suggestions.  The preacher who suggests to his congregation that they really ought to be just a little more generous may find that they give only a fraction of that “little more.”

I think both extremists (in moderate numbers!) and polarizing people (again, in moderate numbers) do us a great service. Many of us would never move at all if we were not drawn or pushed away from their positions by their positions and manner of presentation.

I discuss identifying the extremes as an important part of thinking in my earlier post Moderate Thinking.


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.