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Life-changing lessons

Learning from the Bible, faithful Christians, and wise quotes


George Grant

Life-changing lessons
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Author and pastor George Grant has helped to found educational institutions in Tennessee, Iraq, and Indonesia. Here are edited excerpts of an interview in front of students at Patrick Henry College.

What political lessons emerge from the successes and failures of what’s called the religious right?

The culture is in the mess it’s in because the church is in the mess it’s in. The solution, therefore, is not first and foremost politics. We’re not going to get the politics we want: We’ll have the politics we deserve. Right now we’ve got a mess.

What’s the way out?

Same as it’s always been: genuine reformation, genuine repentance on the part of the church, a real emphasis on substantive Bible teaching from the pulpits of our churches, real discipleship, a vision for expansive missions, hearts of service, and the gentle spirit that always accompanies genuine, faithful righteousness. In other words, the answer is the gospel.

‘If we genuinely believe that the hope of the world is the gospel of Jesus Christ, we’ve got to go to the scariest places and be willing to lay down our lives.’

Expansive missions: Tell us about the schools in Iraq and Indonesia you’ve been involved in founding.

The Lord has opened peculiar doors. In both Indonesia and Iraq, somehow or another cassette tapes of my history lectures found their way into the country to pastors who wanted to better educate their children. Through the providence of God, they and I connected and started thinking, Let’s see if we can create some sort of a program. We now have three big classical Christian schools in northern Iraq among the Kurds: They’re called the Classical School of the Medes.

Also, refugee camp schools?

We have three schools in refugee camps set up since ISIS swept through the region. The Lord has given us favor with the Kurdish provisional government to establish these schools because, during the height of the power of ISIS, our schools were the ones that were open in all of northern Iraq.

Similar story in Indonesia?

Cassette tapes made their way into the hands of a pastor who decided, My kids need this, and then decided, We need this for all of the kids.

How is a classical Christian school in Iraq or Indonesia different from one in Tennessee?

We made lots of adjustments for culture, but we tried to use the same essential principles. In Indonesia we’ll have Mandarin rather than Latin as the classical language. In Iraq, the classical language is Arabic.

How do you find good teachers?

It’s really hard. We send master teachers over, and they help train teachers.

Please tell us about your teacher who was assassinated.

A dynamic young man, Jeremiah Small, had an enormous impact on multiple students over seven years. He was killed in the classroom by one of the students who was wrestling with the faith but came from a politically prominent family and realized that if he became a Christian it would be devastating to the whole family. He felt there was no way out. In the classroom he stood up while Jeremiah was praying and shot him. It’s a huge loss, and yet at the same time we know that places like the slums of Jakarta or the heart of northern Iraq are dangerous. If we genuinely believe that the hope of the world is the gospel of Jesus Christ, we’ve got to go to the scariest places and be willing to lay down our lives.

Did Jeremiah Small’s death help or hinder your recruiting of teachers?

Both. In the immediate aftermath of Jeremiah’s death, we saw a significant slowdown, but it also matured us. The young men and women we’re sending to Iraq know the risks and are better prepared for them. They are heroes.

What happened to the assassin?

He took his own life at the same time. (See “A rush of life,” March 24, 2012.)

Turning to books: Any authors you regularly read?

Every January for about 30 years I’ve read Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism, which date from 1898. They remind me why the gospel applies to art, to care of my neighbor and the poor, to the world. I also read G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy every January to see if the paradoxes make me laugh out loud again, and they always do. Every February I read Oswald Chambers—he died 100 years ago while serving in Egypt.

Do you regularly read some pastors?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Thomas Chalmers. Francis Schaeffer was also hugely formative in my thinking.

Any other writers to note?

My favorite contemporary writer is probably Colin Thubron. Most influential in me thinking about fiction: J.R.R. Tolkien and Umberto Eco. My favorite historian is Paul Johnson, and my favorite economist is Niall Ferguson.

Turning to your church, Parish Presbyterian: Sounds like you embrace the parish model of local churches.

Yes. We’re a Presbyterian Church in America congregation with a commitment to remain small enough so we know each other. We aim for growth by planting new congregations.

These are individual churches, not satellites?

Yes. Your pastor knows you, your children, your story.

This cuts against the megachurch idea of having a celebrity pastor.

We live in a culture that thrives on that. It’s dangerous for the celebrity and the wider culture.

We’ll publish this interview two months from the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. What lessons from Martin Luther are particularly relevant to us today?

Luther was a lifelong learner. He wrestled with big ideas his whole life. I love his zest and zeal, and in his writings I never get the sense that he’s worried about his legacy. People like Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Beza, and Knox just knew that God had called them to do what they were doing.

You tweet lots of quotations. Why?

I try to use social media platforms for ministry purposes, not to show my latest cat videos. The best things to say are often immediately applicable to where we are right now, but were said 150 years ago. That gives us a sense of perspective: We can realize circumstances like ours have happened before.

You quoted Winston Churchill’s “Meet success like a gentleman, disaster like a man.” How do you apply that?

Success ought to be met with humility, and failure with courage.

P.J. O’Rourke: “Everybody wants to save the earth. Nobody wants to help mom do the dishes.”

I sometimes see celebrities talking about world peace and think to myself, You’ve had seven divorces. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we applied that global concern to our real-life relationships? We want to save the world, but we’ve never talked to our next-door neighbor about Christ.

World War I hero Alvin York: “The fear of God makes a hero. The fear of man makes a coward.” Why did you choose that particular quotation?

We tend to be people pleasers. We want applause, we want people to notice us—but that makes us shortsighted. We need to be motivated first and foremost by our love for God, by our desire to please Him and serve Him. York embodied humility combined with steadfast courage.


Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.

@MarvinOlasky

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