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Debate and a Glass of Beer

April 30, 2009

Bet you didn’t think you would ever see that heading on our blog.

You may have noticed that I thoroughly enjoyed Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

He did a study on beer and choices. He went to a pub within MIT and served two different beers to people who entered. They offered them an A and B sample. They first did a simple blind taste test and tabulated the results. The key to the test was that the second sample, B, had balsamic vinegar added. Now I don’t know why someone thought to add balsamic vinegar to beer but it seems to make it taste better or at least better then sample A, because around 70% preferred the beer with the balsamic vinegar added.Beer

Next they changed how they approached sample B. Instead of just allowing them to drink the beers and give their preference, they first told the participants that sample B had vinegar added. Now, understand that sample B always had vinegar, in fact the B sample was the pub’s beer and so those entering had most likely always been drinking beer with vinegar.

What do you think happened? When told that it had vinegar everything changed. In fact the numbers basically flipped. Sample B now received about 30% of the votes.
What changed? Obviously how they perceived the beer. So what does this have to do with debate and church? Am I simply suggesting that you add vinegar to your beer?

People’s predisposed ideas color the way they see everything. This has a great impact in the church. Too often people believe that if I can only explain something in the right way, well that should get people to change sides. It simply isn’t true.

In fact what it shows is that people may discount what you have to say before you even say it based on prior experience. So the great point you have to make may be dead before you even make it.

The church suffers greatly from this today. People often see vinegar before you say a thing. This impacts how we deal with a lost world. It impacts how we have disagreements theologically between believers.

It is one of the reasons we work to put people in categories. If we can identify their side we can know how to treat what they say. It is why fellowship based on belief is so difficult to sway. The simple fact that someone is on my side in a certain area tells me how to treat everything else they say.

What does this mean for the church? Stop trying to win arguments. You would be much better served understanding the other person’s side and how they view yours.

With those away from God find out about their church experience. Don’t just ask if they go to church or have gone, ask them how they saw that experience. If they had a bad experience you telling them yours is good won’t do a thing. If the other party sees you as vinegar beer then what you say has already been defined.

In the end it is why Paul pointed people to Jesus. You see church has a vinegar taste for many. So talking church is like telling them the beer has vinegar. Jesus on the other hand, most people have positive thoughts about Him.

Telling people you don’t want to talk about church is probably the best way to move closer to the first example in the study. Talk about Jesus and what He has done and is doing.

I think Paul understood.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2009 5:59 pm

    What a great illustration about the power of preconceived notions. I gave up trying to win debates years ago. Big waste of time! But this reminder will prove very helpful whenever I’m tempted to be sucked into one. It also challenges me to ask hard questions about my own preconceptions.

    We cannot change people, including ourselves. Only a relationship with Jesus can change people. As I think you are saying, all we need to do is to point people to him.

  2. May 1, 2009 7:55 pm

    Thanks for the comments Wade. It helps me understand what is happening.

    The article on torture to me also has a lot to do with this. How can so many people say they follow Jesus, look at his clear teaching, and then say torture is okay. I don’t get it.

  3. February 6, 2010 9:09 pm

    Here’s a twist. I wrote a politically based blog about a very similar subject. In order to find a picture of a beer for my page I used google which led me to your site.

    I 100% agree with this post. My thoughts on politics tell the same story from another angle. Yet another instance of people coming together of a cold beer.

  4. February 7, 2010 4:33 am

    betabob, thanks for stopping in. This is a very interesting fact. I will take a look at your blog.

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