Some find it difficult to explain what Clapham Institute does. That’s because our work doesn’t fit in most ministry categories. We’re an outlier. Or maybe we’re not.
Clapham Institute is not a faith and work ministry, although we work in these areas. We’re not a leadership ministry, even though we mentor young leaders. We’re not an evangelistic ministry, even though we see people come to Christ. We’re not an apologetic ministry, even though our work is an apologetic for the faith.
So what is Clapham? Some would say an outlier. “Outlier” originally appeared in English in the early 17th century. It was another word for “outsider.” Clapham operates outside the frames of reference that most Western Christians have for the gospel, as well as the times we live in. This is why it’s fair to say Clapham is an outlier.
But maybe we’re not. A point of view is simply a view from a point—your frame of reference. If your frame of reference is that Western Christianity aligns with the historic norm for the faith, then Western Christianity’s ministries will look like the norm. Clapham will look like an outlier. But what if it’s the other way around? What if Western Christianity is the outlier?
That’s not original. Look at the synonyms for outlier: aberration, outsider, individualist, heretic. Then look at how social scientists, believers in Jesus, describe Western Christianity.
Aberration: Philip Jenkins is a Distinguished Professor of History and Co-Director of Program on Historical Studies of Religion at Baylor University. He calls Western Christianity an aberration, “not necessarily the norm within the Christian tradition, still less the authentic core.”
Outsider: James Davison Hunter, LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture and Social Theory at the University of Virginia says Western Christianity is an outsider. “We are—“spiritually speaking—exiles in a land of exile.”
Individualist: In his influential mid-19th-century work Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville described an American as an “individualist.” Robert Bellah was a distinguished sociologist of religion at the University of California, Berkeley. He studied American cultures. Bellah’s research shows that most Western Christians, especially evangelicals, are individualists.
Heretic: The term heretic originally described people who made their own decisions about faith. “In a pre-Enlightenment society, there are only a few heretics in the original sense of the word, that is to say, only a few people who make their own decisions about what to believe.” But that was long ago and far away. Sociologist Peter L. Berger said Americans operate according to “the heretical imperative.” By imperative, he said most Americans feel it is non-negotiable that they be free to choose for themselves what to believe, what church to attend, and so on. No wonder New York Times columnist Ross Douthat describes America as a “nation of heretics.”
So who’s the actual outsider?
Depends on your point of view. A point of view is simply a view from a point. Clapham’s point of view comes from standing on the shoulders of giants, like Jenkins, Hunter, Bellah, and Dallas Willard. Or C. S. Lewis. He called himself a dinosaur, an outlier in the modern Western world. Lewis felt the modern West operated from an Enlightenment frame of reference. The result, he felt, was a post-Christian society (he said this in 1954). Lewis felt a post-Christian world required reframing the faith in images and language accessible to all.
That’s what Clapham Institute does. We recognize the post-Christian world, reframing the faith in images and language accessible to all. So, are we the outsider? Or is Western Christianity?
Depends on your point of view.
Check out the latest Clapham podcast here: https://claphaminstitute.podbean.com/
 Philip Jenkins, “Companions of Life: What Must We learn, and Unlearn?” Books and Culture, March/April 2007, Volume 13, No. 2, 18-20.
 James Davison Hunter, To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, (Oxford, 2010), 280.
 Robert Bellah et al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (University of California, 1996).
 Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Eerdmans, 1989), 39-40.
 Peter L. Berger, The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation (Doubleday, 1980)
 Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press, 2012).