Resourcing The Few, The Perplexed

Michael Metzger

British historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) believed civilizations could be renewed because they have a spiritual dimension. It yields what he called “a creative minority.” A what?

There’s an ongoing debate between historians. Can civilizations can be restored? Or do they invariably die? Oswald Spengler, a German historian, said all civilizations are born, grow, and then age, decline and die. No exceptions. Arnold Toynbee disagreed. Civilizations have a spiritual dimension. They can be restored. But only a creative minority can do it.

Toynbee said the church was a creative minority in the Roman Empire. In her first years, she was simply a minority.[1] But by impacting elites, the church became an influential, innovative minority.[2] This is why, by AD410, as the Visigoths sacked Rome, the church established some of the only law and order the people of Rome enjoyed. A creative minority.

One of the church’s leaders was Alaric. He ordered the destruction of Rome’s governmental infrastructure. But he but left institutions reflecting a biblical understanding of government. In this way, the church fulfilled Toynbee’s definition of a creative minority: “those who proactively respond to a civilization’s crisis and whose response allows that civilization to grow.”

There have been other creative minorities. The Clapham Sect (c. 1780-1833). Stephen Tomkins describes it as a network of friends and families, powerfully bound together by their mission and social activism, who sought “to woo the ruling classes.”[3] Clapham achieved over 60 societal reforms, including the abolition of the English Slave Trade. A creative minority.

But here’s our challenge. Clapham is the last instance in history of the conservative faith tradition changing the world in significant ways. Analysts say that since then, our story “has been one of declining influence.”[4] We’re no longer in the dense, overlapping networks of elites that characterize world-changing movements.[5] Western Christianity is in exile, an outsider.

Exiles get this. As I wrote last week, innovative influential exiles are our best hope for bringing Western Christianity out of exile. They are the few—roughly 3,500. They recognize our exile is similar to the Babylonian exile. Today’s exiles are the sons of Judah. They’re our best hope.

I didn’t say this. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks did. In his 2013 Erasmus Lecture, Sacks said America’s renewal depends on a creative minority. He said the sons of Judah in the Babylonian exile were “history’s first creative minority.” The next year, 2004, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) said Europe’s renewal depended on a creative minority.

But this raises another challenge. The few who recognize exile are the New Diaspora. Dispersed. Disconnected. How can we resource them? It’ll be mostly online.

With only .41 exiles per church in the US, it’s hard to imagine any one church having critical mass to launch a creative minority. Online is a better way to resource a disconnected, nationwide creative minority. That’s what Clapham Institute is developing.

We’re not competing with Praxis, which is forming a creative minority of business start-ups. May Praxis’ tribe increase. We’re not competing with Jon Tyson’s idea that a local church can be a creative minority. With only .41 exiles per church, it’s hard to see that happening. But we pray that Jon’s tribe will increase.

Like Apple’s famous 1984 ad (“a computer for the rest of us”), we aim to resource the 95 percent of today’s exiles who don’t have access to a church like Jon’s. The New Diaspora. We envision a three-year online coaching and immersion in becoming a high-performing exile. It took the sons of Judah three years to learn the language and literature of Babylon (Dan.1). It took Jesus’ disciples three years to get the hang of it. It takes, on average, three years to shift a paradigm. On average, it takes innovators at least three years to go to market.[6] That’s our plan.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, check out the latest Clapham podcast:


[1] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religion in the Western World (HarperSanFrancisco Edition, 1997)

[2] c.f. Peter Brown’s The Rise of Western Christendom and Wayne A. Meeks’ The Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul.

[3] Stephen Tomkins, The Clapham Sect: How Wilberforce’s Circle Transformed Britain (Oxford: Lion, 2010), 53.

[4] James Davidson Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 19.

[5] c.f. Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change (Belknap Press, 1998) & Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Crown Publishing Group, 2012)

[6] Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations (Simon and Schuster: 2003)


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  1. Thanks for sharing your vision. Your last statement that new movements take time to develop is encouraging. The first three years of any new business is the hardest. Money problems, name recognition, staffing, etc. May we all live to see the new exile community flourish.

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