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The Challenge to the Church: An Interview with George Grant

By Lee Duigon
March 08, 2013

Rev. George Grant, pastor at Parish Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, has packed an amazing variety into his career.

As a young man, he served under Dr. D. James Kennedy with Coral Ridge Ministries, Florida,  to become executive director and vice president of the organization.

As a pro-life activist, he became such a controversial figure that he had to have bodyguards when he traveled. ("Let's just say it got very hot," he said.)

As part of his own ministry to combat extreme poverty, he once spent three days and nights as a homeless man on the most troubled and dangerous streets in New York City.

He has written and published sixty books on a wide range of Christian issues. Meanwhile, he and his wife, Karen, raised three children who now have children of their own.

Today he's planting churches in Tennessee and doing foreign missionary work. Chalcedon was able to corral him for an interview a few days before he left for a trip to South Korea and Indonesia.

As varied as all these activities have been, they are all, he said, part of one vision for his life of ministry:

"It's always the same challenge to the church-to live out our faith effectually. Not to ‘do church,' but to be the church."

How the Poor Get Poorer

We read Dr. Grant's 1986 book, The Dispossessed: Homelessness in America (Dominion Press, Ft. Worth, TX), to get a feel for his face-to-face encounters with the most extreme form of poverty. We say face-to-face because, to write the book, Grant traveled all around the country to meet the homeless, to hear their individual life stories, and, at times, to share their hardships. The book paints a grim picture.

"I didn't mean for my message to be one of hopelessness," he said, "but I did want to show that the top-down, government approach to poverty really is hopeless. It does more harm than good.

"Because all of these top-down policies are a violation of the principles of sphere sovereignty, government agencies and big secular charities exacerbate the problems rather than solve them. This approach rewards irresponsibility and leads to an erosion of self-government and church discipline. In all of our preaching and teaching, we have to rebuild an awareness of sphere sovereignty."

What does that mean? "The care of the poor must begin with the individual's own self-government; and then the church. God never told the government to take care of the poor. He told us to do it.

"But to a large degree, the church has failed to speak articulately to our culture [For more on how the church has failed to do this, see Dr. Grant's own article in this issue-ed.], and the enemies of the gospel have prevailed."

Grant's book contains a disclaimer:

[L]est anyone get the impression from this book that I threw caution to the wind and struck out alone and unguarded in the wilds of New York, let me clarify: During the time I was on the street I was in constant communication with professional contacts in New York, local police, and family members back home; I never entered into an unsafe area without first taking the precaution of notifying authorities; at particularly sensitive times I had a ‘guardian angel,' a friend, follow close behind me; I scouted out the areas I was going ahead of time so that I would not go into a situation ‘blind'; I had read and researched extensively so I knew what to expect pretty well; I prayed constantly ... The point of my relating all this is to warn anyone against trying to duplicate my sojourn on the streets without similar preparation and precaution. The streets are lethal and should not be taken lightly. (p. vi)

How many times have we wished TV "news reporters" and documentarians would be this honest? But Dr. Grant was seeking knowledge and understanding, not ratings.

Another Kind of Poverty

In many American communities and neighborhoods, stark material poverty is invisible, perhaps even non-existent. Everyone seems to be adequately housed, adequately fed, and adequately clothed. But here we may find another kind of poverty.

I presented Dr. Grant with a real-life example from my own suburban neighborhood.

A woman with three children by three different men, no husband involved, lives in a nice apartment paid for by government subsidies. The oldest daughter already has an out-of-wedlock baby, no husband, and has been in serious trouble with the law, the details of which I prefer not to publish. The middle daughter wanders around with half her head shaved bald. The little boy attends public school but is not allowed to play outside, not allowed to have friends. The mother does not work. She is a perpetual student at the local community college, publicly subsidized. The family belongs to a church and professes to be Christian. In fact, the church held a shower for the daughter's out-of-wedlock baby, with the pastor displaying no curiosity as to the baby's father.

They have everything they need, and yet they have nothing. They are dependents of the state, going back three generations. We asked Dr. Grant how he would begin to approach their poverty.

He had no easy answer.

"That kind of situation is all too common," he said. "There, all the props have been knocked out from responsibility-and knocked out from any prospects for reform. Thanks to a massive program of disincentives"-Why work when you can live on public subsidies?-"we've locked them into a horrific existence where they can subsist, but never progress. It shows the hopelessness of the world's solutions to great problems."

How does one evangelize persons who say they are Christians, and who look as if they would respond with sharp hostility to any "interference" in their lives? But before this kind of poverty can be addressed, Grant said, other things have to happen.

"We have to learn how to speak to a culture that's in a terrible state of demise," he said. "Historically, that's not a new kind of challenge for the church. We're in the midst of another one of those bad periods-like the fourteenth century, with the Black Death, or the seventeenth, with the Thirty Years' War. There have been worse times than ours, and the church has always dealt with them." He cited the example of John Amos Comenius, who rose from being a homeless refugee in the Thirty Years' War to become "the father of modern Christian education" in the Western world.

"Our responsibility begins, as always, with the house of God," Dr. Grant said. "In our churches today, the Word of God is not preached, and the gospel not propounded. Instead, the churches are all about happy attitudes and the therapeutic approach to life's problems." [Dr. Grant discusses this more fully in his article-ed.]

"We, the church, have to reach out to society," he said, "but people in the church today are not being taught how to do this. Even then, there will always be those who will not listen. We have to be ready to take the opportunities that will be appreciated, when the lost are ready to hear the gospel.

"The gospel is affording us real and substantial answers. Our eschatology must be such that, given the magnitude of the problems that we face, we are, in the short term, pessimists-but in the long term, optimists."

As he concludes in The Dispossessed, "Our commission is not dependent upon conditions and restrictions. Our commission is dependent only upon the unconditional promises of God's word. So, we should just go. Do what we ought to do. Starting now" (p. 232).

Why Foreign Missions?

With America's culture in such a state of demise, why spend time, labor, and resources on foreign missions? Why go to places like Korea and Indonesia?

"We wait on the Lord, and on His purposes, and His timing," Grant said. "So, first, it's good for my church to see me exercise this kind of commitment, laboring in a mission overseas. It shapes their own vision of servanthood and sacrifice.

"Also, there is much that we can learn from other cultures, especially in light of the increasing paganization of our own. Korea, for instance, is a country that has no long, historical Christian tradition. Yet the church in Korea is a great model for us, powerfully affecting the culture of that nation.

"Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. There's even less of a Christian tradition there, and yet the church is working there, too. We have a global Kingdom that Christ is establishing."

Finally, in those American churches which have large congregations in other countries, sometimes the participation of those new congregations in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and other regions plays a vital role in the life of their parent denominations in America. The United Methodist Church, for example, would surely have surrendered to groups pressing for the acceptance of same-sex "marriage," had the delegates from Africa not taken such a strong stand for Biblical morality at the denomination's yearly general conferences. In the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria was for many years a powerful voice for faithfulness to God's Word. It is not pleasant to imagine what might have happened to these churches without the contribution of their African congregations.

So What Else Does He Do?

In addition to all of the above, Dr. Grant maintains a blog, Grantian Florilegium (grantian.blogspot.com), is the founder of the Kings Meadow Study Center (kingsmeadow.com), and teaches at the Franklin Classical School in Franklin, TN, which he founded-a private Christian school offering a full curriculum for grades K-12 (franklinclassical.com). In a short video attached to the Kings Meadow website, Grant, asked how he is able to keep up with so many different projects, jokes, "I don't!"

But all of these various enterprises, he said, are part of his way of meeting the challenge to the church to live out her faith effectually. "That's the whole thrust of my ministry. That's what I've always tried to do."


Topics: Charity, Church, The, Culture

Lee Duigon

Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.

Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.

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