Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Symposium: "Which American city offers the healthiest climate for the flourishing of evangelical public intellectuals?" (2)

Drew Henderson, Josh Good


October 29, 2010

Editor: This is the second round of our conversation on the intellectual climate of America’s cities, which began on October 15, 2010.

Charlotte, NC

By some accounts, I have served in one of the centers of American evangelicalism:  Charlotte, North Carolina.  Charlotte is the birthplace of Billy Graham and home to several well-known seminaries.  As a pastor and former campus minister, the intellectual life of my friends in Charlotte, especially of fellow pastors deeply engaged in community outreach and transformation, was instrumental in maintaining a life and practice with some sense of balance and vision.

The climate was defined mostly by a mixture of ministry leaders who labored with a mutual burden for the Gospel and the public good.  Non-profit ministry leaders and clergy worked intensively together to break the cycle of church efforts that had become institutionalized and anonymous in their confession of Christ.  Our intellectual life together was marked by a desire to gather gifts for the harvest and to examine the city landscape for common graces that would be at the heart of feeding people, housing people, building up the culture and expressing the life of redemption.

My coalition of friends in Charlotte is not defined by their academic scholarship, but by their examination of the Word, themselves, their parishes and their city.  They are pastors, lay and ordained, with critical and hermeneutical eyes for the children, the schools, those without housing and those without hope. They are visible and public people, many times without platform or recognition, but they labor quietly, with humor and grace.  

There is much to remark about the renovation of Charlotte over the last twenty years, especially the Uptown areas and the North Davidson Street corridor.  I believe there is a continuing potential for communion with political, business and industry leaders as to Kingdom practices and imagination, but there is also a grass-roots sensibility that the Church is neither dead nor obsolete. Believers of all capacities have the call to help heal and express the Gospel, but I have to give thanks for my brothers and sisters who labor in Charlotte.

—Rev. Drew Henderson is currently the Site Pastor at the Wornall Campus of Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, MO.

Boston, MA

Whoever first said that Boston is actually a “city of little neighborhoods” was spot-on.   I’m convinced Boston’s an ideal setting for “public” intellectuals—and particularly for Evangelicals, who are rare birds in that highly academic, highly secular city.

The first reason involves geography:  the city’s closely tucked-together neighborhoods are full of paradox!   Just four miles from Cambridge’s intellectual coffee shops (Harvard Square, MIT), a myriad of social problems fill the urban ghetto “streets” (Dorchester).   Alongside timeless history filling the Boston Common and Natural Gardens, hundreds of homeless men and women still huddle together around fire-filled canisters or in shelters, and each year people freeze to death amidst the city’s uncannily cold winters.  Boston is home to education and ignorance, extreme wealth and extreme poverty … recall the city’s hopefulness in Goodwill Hunting and its tragedy in The Departed.

But with its considerable diversity, Boston is a city that’s always buzzing with new ideas from active unions, students, journalists and city officials—all ready to change the world in their own backyard.  The city provides a wonderful setting for joining the public dialogue, for learning to write and argue more clearly, and—particularly for Evangelicals—for remembering to stand boldly against Harvard’s all-too-common definition of listening, mere “waiting your turn to speak.”   

—Josh Good is a Boston expatriate, who lived for seven years in downtown Boston and Cambridge, before moving to Capitol Hill in DC.

“To respond to the author of this Commentary please email:
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. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”