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Book Jacket

0825433231
Trade Paperback
208 pages
Jun 2006
Kregel Publications

Corner Conversations: Engaging Dialogues About God and Life

by Randy Newman

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Excerpt:

Introduction



Welcome to Turnerville. I only wish this town existed someplace besides in my imagination. Everything moves slowly in Turnerville. People take time to think. They discuss issues that typically get rushed or ignored. Even the leaves seem to change colors more slowly there. When city planners drew up blueprints, they strategically placed benches all over town so people would stop and chat. The mayor boasts of a higher bench-per-capita ratio than any other locale.

Don't you long for that kind of community? Don't you hunger for relaxed conversations instead of anxious fly-by messages? I do. In a day when most conversations take place through e-mail, instant messaging, or on cell phones with intermittent reception ("Can you hear me now?"), taking time just to listen and interact seems luxurious.

It also sounds scary. Such a level of intimacy requires vulnerability, reflection, and humility. But I say it's worth the risk.

I also long for conversations with people who disagree with me—conversations, not arguments. Do these still exist anywhere? When I turn on the television and catch one of those so-called "talk" shows, I hear something other than talk. I'm assaulted by people yelling at and interrupting each other. I cringe as participants make sarcastic cracks about points their opponents really aren't making. I observe simultaneous monologues instead of respectful dialogues. Such noise makes me thankful for that great technological wonder—the remote control.

Don't you sometimes wish you could express doubts without someone jumping down your throat? Wouldn't it be helpful to have friends who correct you (gently!) when you say something foolish, but also let you formulate thoughts without condemning you? Wouldn't it be nice to speculate and then, once you've heard something come out of your mouth, have the freedom to say, "Oh, wait a minute. I don't really believe that"? And wouldn't it be great to have people listen to your uncertainty and just say, "Oh, that's okay"?

People in Turnerville give each other that kind of liberty. I dream that such conversations will become more the norm—for real and not just in my imagination. And in what area do we need this kind of freedom and respect more than in religion and spirituality? We live in a more pluralistic and diverse age than ever but we sound more intolerant and fearful than ever.

In the midst of this tense atmosphere, Corner Conversations addresses difficult and complex topics:

Can we really know God?
Why does God allow evil and suffering?
Aren't all religions basically the same?
Should we believe the Bible?
Whose morality is best?
Why are there so many hypocrites among believers?
Is there life after death?

How often are subjects like these addressed in healthy, robust exchanges? How common are the commodities of careful listening and reflection? It's my hope that we can change a disturbing pattern and promote respect without compromise, convictions without arrogance, and listening without patronizing.

Before you start eavesdropping on the residents of Turnerville, let me explain a few things.

The conversations written in this book aren't real—but they are realistic. I didn't transcribe them from actual tape-recorded chats. But after working on college campuses for the past twenty-five years, sharing many a cup of coffee with students and professors, I can assure you these kinds of exchanges between people of differing perspectives do take place.

Corner Conversations is also drawn from situations besides the university campus. Sideline chats at soccer games, exchanges with neighbors and relatives, and question-and-answer sessions with my sons (and some of their peers) have provided plenty of fodder for what you find on these pages.

You should know, too, that I'm a follower of Jesus. Everyone has some bias. Mine favors what Christians have traditionally believed for the past two thousand years. I try to focus my life around the core beliefs that all Christians affirm—what C. S. Lewis called "mere Christianity."

At the same time, I value fairness and respect. I've tried to model those virtues in the conversations I've created and have sought evenhandedness. Several friends with contrary viewpoints read my work to see if I was erecting straw men. They assured me I represented them fairly.

I value healthy exchange between people of different faiths. I grew up in a Jewish home in a Catholic neighborhood, went to public schools, and came to follow Jesus as the promised Messiah at Temple University, a diverse urban university. That decision came after years of debate—with others, within my own mind, and with consultation of two thousand years' worth of dialogue between two different yet connected worldviews.

I'm comfortable with the process of holding these differing values in healthy tension, but I also press for conclusions. Regarding process, I realize this book is only one of many steps on your spiritual journey. I hope it won't be the last thing you read about Jesus, his teaching, his work, and God's plan for your life. After each conversation you'll find a section of endnotes suggesting further reading, Web sites to visit, and parts of the Bible to investigate. If you have to choose only one additional read, I hope you'll choose the biblical section.

This love for process might frustrate you. I ask more questions than I answer. Some of these dialogues leave issues unsettled. I'm okay with that, but I thought it best to warn you.

On the other hand, I put a premium on landing the plane, not just enjoying the flight. Years ago, I saw a sign outside a professor's office that intrigued me. It said, "Better to debate an issue without settling it than to settle an issue without debating it." I guess. But I wonder if we have other alternatives. How about settling an issue after debating it? Many people today pride themselves for searching without ever finding. I think we'd all, deep down, rather search and find.

Here's one more preference that has shaped this book. I hate interruptions. So I didn't want to flood the pages with footnotes. I didn't even want those little numbers luring you toward the back of the book. Instead, the sections of endnotes, entitled "Keep the Conversation Going," give credit where credit is due, along with references to page numbers and key words.

Sorting out religious beliefs can be taxing—intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. But can you think of anything more important, more foundational, or more influential in shaping who you will become? You've picked up this book because you have some level of interest in clarifying or expanding your beliefs. Maybe a good friend gave or lent it to you with the hope that you two will engage in some lively conversations and enhance your friendship. Wouldn't that be great?

For whatever reasons you've arrived at this point, I'm grateful for the opportunity to join you in your quest for answers and insight. Maybe someday we could sit on a bench somewhere and chat about it. I'd like that.


Taken from Corner Conversations by Randy Newman. Copyright © 2006 by Randy Newman. Used by permission of Kregel Publications, a division of Kregel, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI 49501. All rights reserved.