Christians have long struggled to know exactly what Jesus meant when in Luke 16:8, Jesus concluded one of his most enigmatic parables with an equally enigmatic saying, "The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."
What might all the implications of that saying be? Is it good or bad that "the children of light" aren't very shrewd? What exactly does it meant to be shrewd? Is shrewdness a virtue or a sin?
Jesus gives no further explanation, yet, despite the uncertainty, the plain meaning of his words rings true. "The children of this age" do seem to be "more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."
Here is an example: In "this age" in which we live, we are constantly subjected to advertising and marketing. One key to marketing is brand recognition and that means getting the brand name in front of people so often and with such impact that they will remember it when it comes time to buy. So, the same advertisements appear on television over and over again. A whole series of billboards repeats the same message across a city. New products are introduced with saturation campaigns that put the same message on radio and television, in the newspaper and direct mail, on signs and on coupons. Naming the product raises awareness, visibility, even trust, encouraging people to try whatever it is that's being sold and to prove for themselves that it is something they need and is worth the expense.
When it comes to evangelism, though, many Christians today seem to think that the best strategy is to not talk about Jesus. They seek to further the "product" by avoiding the "brand name." There are countless examples of Christians, particularly from the "mainline" churches, draining the content out of their public witnesses out of a concern of offending others.
I recently talked to a member of a worship band in an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America church that occasionally hosts musical concerts for the public. The church's pastor forbids the band members from witnessing to Jesus, quoting the Bible or singing songs that are "too Christian," so that the people who attend will "feel comfortable" and because the concerts are meant to be "a gift to the community" rather than "evangelism." A recent issue of an evangelism newsletter included a report from a "mystery visitor" who attended a local church and approvingly reported that "nothing made me feel uncomfortable, no one quizzed me about my beliefs, attempted to convince me of anything or told me that I was a terrible person."
What kind of sense does that make? What greater "gift" could a church offer its community than the good news of Jesus Christ?
How can preaching that makes no one uncomfortable and does not attempt to convince anyone of anything possibly be faithful? How did honesty about human sin get reduced to telling people they are "terrible"? How on earth did Christians become so embarrassed by Jesus that remaining silent about Him would be considered a virtue and that sparing people from evangelism--from hearing good news--was an outreach strategy?
In a world in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes less known and the competition from false religions grows by the day, let all of us whom God has transformed into "children of light" take a lesson from the advertisers who appeal to "the children of this age." We must name the name of Jesus, eagerly, repeatedly, unashamedly, persistently, enthusiastically, graciously, openly, fearlessly, creatively and unapologetically. With the drive of a sales agent and the zeal of the convert, we must take the risk of witnessing as effectively as we can to friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, acquaintances, strangers and whoever else God brings across our paths.
In a world that that is gripped by spiritual darkness, we dare not hide the light of the world under a bushel basket. We must not hesitate to place it on the lamp stand for fear that some may prefer the darkness. We must name the Name of our Lord Jesus, for He Himself calls us to "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)