Because “shrewd” is not a commonly used word, could you expound on its meaning?
In my book, I describe “shrewd” this way: “It’s a weapons-grade relational tactic—a way of thinking and acting—that Jesus long ago urged His followers to use in their uprising against the powers and ‘spiritual forces of wickedness’ of this world. Shrewd people (and Jesus is the Exemplar) first study how things work, and then leverage that knowledge to tip the balance in a favored direction. Shrewdness is the expert application of the right force at the right time in the right place.” Most Christians have a negative reaction to the word “shrewd,” but Jesus not only exemplified this way of relating to others in His redemptive mission on earth, He gave us a mandate to grow much, much more adept in our practice of it. The point of His “Parable of the Shrewd Manager” (Luke 16:1-8) is specifically to highlight the behavior of a lazy, lying, good-for-nothing servant who has no qualities we’d want to emulate except for one: his shrewd way of saving himself from the consequences of his terrible behavior. Jesus highlights this anti-role-model for one purpose: “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” Later, in preparation for sending out His disciples on their first ministry journey without Him, He tells them to take nothing with them (no clothing, money, or “insurance” of any kind)—instead, He tells them they need just two things: 1. Be as shrewd as a serpent, and 2. Be as innocent as a dove. The word He uses here for “serpent” is the same one He uses for Satan. And the word He uses here for “dove” is the same the Bible uses to describe the Holy Spirit. He’s telling His disciples to be as shrewd as Satan is, but as innocent as the Holy Spirit is. Shrewdness, then, is a way of living and relating that Jesus first modeled for us, then commanded us to do likewise.
Would Jesus’ disciples in New Testament times have found this a startling command?
Absolutely. When Jesus told His disciples the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, they were surrounded by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law—their own private “wolf pack” encircling the “sheep.” In the midst of this pack of predators, Jesus turns to His disciples and tells them this startling, scandalous, but crystal-clear story—a story that challenge everything we think we know about Him. He chooses His words, and His setting, well. He’s essentially pointing to the “pack” and outlining for His disciples exactly how to defeat its tactics and innate superiority. They are, He asserts, just like sheep—an animal that is wholly helpless to defend itself against predators. When Jesus ends His story with a pointed reference to “the people of the light” and their “shrewdness deficit,” He’s not only telling them something that is shocking to their sensibilities, He’s likely offending them with His assessment of their abilities.
Why was it important to you to write about this concept?
Five-or-so years ago I was locked in what felt like an all-out war over a ministry dream that was in danger of dying, because a man who was much shrewder than me was bent on stopping it. One day, in my grief and fear and anger over what was about to happen, God sort of “sat me down” and challenged me—it was clear that my “frontal” way of dealing with this situation was not going to work, and He was asking me if I was going to have the courage to move more shrewdly. I asked Him to teach me what I needed to know about shrewdness, and He (of course) brought me to Jesus, the source of all good things. Unlike us (by His own assessment), Jesus is “more shrewd than the people of this world,” and that means He’s perpetually taking what His enemies intend for evil and morphing it into good. Jesus is always and everywhere out-leveraging Satan and his allies, using the destructive momentum he creates against them, like a martial artist.
Your last book was titled Sifted. On a lighter note, do you look for one-word titles in Scripture?
People have joked with me a lot about this—believe me, I have plenty of suggestions for my next one-word “S”-titled book. There are endless possibilities, if you think about it. Salt, anyone?
You been the editor of Group Magazine for almost as long as I’ve been alive. Does your youth ministry side show up in the book?
I’m still deeply embedded in the world of youth ministry. This year marks my 25th year as editor of GROUP Magazine. Youth ministry has been the perfect community for learning about the confluence of life and the power of the gospel of Jesus. I’m around people who, every day, are working to translate Jesus’ life and message and calling into real-world situations. In the end, the key to an effective youth ministry is in making Jesus the “orbital center” for everything you do—and my role in youth ministry (and in the rest of my life) is to reveal the beauty and worth of “the pearl of great price” and “the treasure in the field.” Once you understand the inestimable worth of the treasure, it’s simply human nature to “sell everything you have” to buy the field where that treasure is buried.