Being shrewd is a lot like being manipulative. That’s why Jesus commanded us to be innocently shrewd. But, writes Rick Lawrence in Shrewd: Daring to Live the Startling Command of Jesus (David C Cook, 2012), we are commanded to be shrewd nonetheless. From there, Lawrence tackles the negative connotations of his title—and his topic—head-on. To be shrewd is to apply the right force at the right place to achieve the right result. Hence Jesus’ commendation of the dishonest manager, and His statement that “the children of darkness are more shrewd in their generation than the children of light” (Luke 16:8).
Naturally, as his title might suggest, Lawrence spends considerably more time on the “shrewd as serpents” part of the phrase. He illustrates, defines, and applies exactly what he’s talking about. To a casual complaint he once made about his wife, a counselor responded, “Yep, your wife’s a [expletive], isn’t she?”—thereby shrewdly exposing to Lawrence his own “casually brutal” attitude. But the book really gets good when Lawrence moves into the “innocent as doves” part. There he spends a chapter expositing Romans 8 in an unforgettable fashion. The freedom we have in Christ from our old habits of sin is the engine that drives righteous shrewdness in our everyday encounters.
Shrewd strongly emphasizes using shrewd techniques to figure out what really drives people and then by our words prodding them toward the salvation offered by Christ. Ask one additional question; go past your comfort zone, rather than letting the conversation die. Keep asking, thinking, even prying; people want to be known.
Lawrence draws widely: He quotes Flannery O’Connor and Oprah, the New American Standard and The Message. His writing is a breeze to read, yet still manages to communicate solid theological truth. Manipulation is about getting one’s own way; shrewdness is about following Christ’s way of leveraging beauty, generosity, and even bluntness to bring others toward the Kingdom.