Symposium: "Which American city offers the healthiest climate for the flourishing of evangelical public intellectuals?"

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October 15, 2010

In our new Dialogue column, Capital Commentary will host a conversation marked by convicted civility on questions over which there are principled disagreements. In this first Dialogue symposium we ask: "Which American city offers the healthiest climate for the flourishing of evangelical public intellectuals?"

Columbus, Ohio

A recent event – the Ohio State Price of Life – opened my eyes to the potential of Columbus, Ohio, as a city for evangelical intellectuals. The event was a rare combination of evangelism and social action. Many students decided to follow Christ during the week, while civic leaders took concrete steps to end human trafficking in Ohio.

Why Columbus? I see three factors:

Influence. As both capital and "swing city" of a swing state, Columbus receives unusual attention in national politics. Further, Columbus is home to one of the nation's premier research universities, the Ohio State University.

"Just-right" size. Larger cities face more competition for attention. In contrast, Columbus has less than 2 million people in its metropolitan area, only 32nd in the US. Yet it receives regular coverage from national media and enjoys all the resources of a major metropolitan area.

The Christian community. Many churches and para-church organizations have a significant presence in Columbus, including the Veritas Forum, Campus Crusade for Christ, the Coalition for Christian Outreach, and my own organization, InterVarsity. Long-term relationships between these organizations made the Price of Life event possible. They also hold greater potential for the future.  

– Micheal Hickerson is the Emerging Scholars Network Coordinator for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Los Angeles

Saints called to the city of angels are blessed with an array of culturally engaged evangelical churches, associations, seminaries, and universities. Our city serves as a vibrant gateway to both Latin America and the greater Pacific Rim. Amidst this cultural intersection, local Christian leaders and institutions are continuously enriched by the witness of the global church.

Hollywood, as a culture-making center, is unparalleled in its global reach and influence. Christians active within “the industry” have formed myriad bible studies and organizations dedicated to exploring how they might faithfully follow a creative Savior into the studio.  Beyond popular culture, Angelenos are currently debating public policy issues that urgently demand a thoughtful Christian witness, including immigration policy, urban planning and renewal, and public school debates over devolution.

For Christians interested in principled pluralism, Fuller Theological Seminary and Providence Christian College in Pasadena are beginning to foster an exciting new generation of neocalvinist activists and scholars.

– Matthew Kaemingk is a PhD student at Fuller Seminary.

New York City

In New York City you can be anything you want. You can make your fortune on Wall Street or act your way onto the most celebrated Broadway stage. You can turn yourself into something unlikely and eccentric, like Times Square’s world-famous Naked Cowboy, or something even more improbable, like an evangelical public intellectual.

Each of these identities, however, comes with the same risk: by adapting your lifestyle to that of this city, you risk estrangement from your home. The investment banker is accused of being a workaholic by his family, the Broadway dancer of acquiescing to the perceived immorality of the stage, and how do you think the Naked Cowboy’s parents feel?

Similarly, the evangelical community casts out the believer who audaciously engages the often broken ethos of this cultural epicenter. She will be labeled a liberal Christian, a non-Christian, or, worse yet, a hipster Christian.

Maintaining the label “evangelical public intellectual,” therefore, means being confined to the shallow end of the pool, permitted to consider culture, but only with certain preordained conclusions. It is far better, then, to identify as a Christian first, and then an intellectual, free altogether of the nebulous evangelical label. From Reinhold Niebuhr to Richard John Neuhaus, New York City has certainly provided a healthy climate for plenty of these.

– Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is managing editor of Patrol magazine.

This Dialogue on the best city for fostering evangelical public intellectuals will continue in two weeks, on October 29, 2010.

To respond to the author of this Commentary: capcomm@cpjustice.org

Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion.