From Table-Talk to Tabletalk
We love the dramatic. When we think about the Reformation we can hear the pounding of the nail into the church door as Luther dared the scholars of his time to debate his 95 theses. We see in our mind’s eye Luther refusing to back down at the Diet of Worms, boldly declaring, “Here I stand; I can do no other.” Just as we telescope our reading of Scripture, believing that every other day God either spoke from on high or sent a miracle worker amongst His people, so we think Luther moved from grand cinematic moment to grand cinematic moment, that the Reformation itself took place with all the speed and drama of a Hollywood movie. Such makes for great movies, but not for great reformations. It is far more likely that the Reformation spread with all the speed and deliberation of a conversation around the supper table.
Luther himself, of course, lived at times a dramatic life. He wrote books that are to this day life changing. He did epic battle with Erasmus of Rotterdam, whose Diatribe argued that man’s choice supersedes the will of God, that man by nature yet has an island of righteousness within himself. Luther’s Bondage of the Will still stands as one of the most important works of theology ever written. Luther had to occasionally don disguises and hide from those who would kill him for his convictions. He rarely, it seems, lacked for excitement.
Yet it may well be that the great engine that drove the entire Reformation was something as simple as a meal. It may well be that what actually changed the world was conversation. Luther, quite apart from his work as a pastor and professor, practiced the art of table talk. The Luther family table was one of important, joyful, biblical conversation. Around Luther’s table was not only his wife and children, but many of his students. Those students not only enjoyed the labors of Katie in her kitchen, but ate up the wisdom of Martin as well. They collected those nuggets of wisdom, and compiled them in a book that is still read to this day. The students called this work, appropriately enough, Table-Talk. Here these young men were given the wisdom of God in the very context of life. They were taught the biblical way, when you lie down and when you rise up. And through that power, reformation spread across Europe.
Over forty years ago God called another reformer. This man, like Luther, was blessed with a conscience held captive by the Word of God. This man, unlike Luther, was not called to stand front and center on the stage of the greatest cultural upheaval since the fall of Rome. Instead, he was called to minister in the little village of Ligonier, Pennsylvania. There, as with Luther, he sat at his dinner table surrounded by young students as he explained to them the Word of God. R.C. Sproul, like Luther before him, wrote books, gave lectures, and delivered sermons. But he likewise engaged in conversation, conversation that changed lives, including my own.
Out of those conversations was born another table talk, Tabletalk magazine. Unlike Luther’s Table-Talk, the point of the magazine isn’t principally to collect for posterity the nuggets of wisdom from a great teacher. Yes, each month Dr. Sproul does provide his column, and yes, it is filled with wisdom. Tabletalk the magazine, however, is called such because it is the hope of its editors that it will spark table talk in the thousands of homes that receive the magazine. It is their hope that this magazine will encourage families to speak of the things of God when they lie down and when they rise up. It is their conviction that conversation, speaking to our children of the wisdom of God, is a great and mighty engine of reformation. The belief isn’t, mind you, that through such conversations our children might grow up to lead dramatic and heroic lives fit for the screen, that they will be tools of reformation. Rather, the belief is that our children are the very world that must be reformed. Indeed, the hope is that through the work of conversation, our children might be remade into the image of Christ, as they are washed with the water of the Word, and that in turn, they might turn the world upside down, by living in peace and quietness with all men, as much as is possible. Talk to your children, not so that they will change the world, but because they are the world. And thank God for Martin Luther for not only reminding us that we are justified by faith alone, but reminding us to speak of these things as we enjoy our daily bread.