Corner Conversations: Engaging Dialogues About God and Life
by Randy Newman
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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
It also sounds scary. Such a level of intimacy requires
vulnerability, reflection, and humility. But I say it's worth the
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
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.
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