How did Tabletalk begin? How has the magazine changed over the years?
To answer that question, we have to go back to Martin Luther. Luther was a great teacher. He taught from the pulpit, in the classroom, and by writing books. But, like any good teacher, he taught in the ordinary moments of his life. He taught when fellowshipping with believers. These teachings, gathered by his students over a lifetime of ministry, became the first Table Talk. Table Talk was a book, a collection of sayings. These sayings came from conversations that were often had while talking over a table—that is, while sharing a meal with Martin Luther.
Dr. R.C. Sproul is also a great teacher. Every moment with him is an opportunity for learning. Casting a backward glance at Luther’s Table Talk, Dr. Sproul began Tabletalk in 1977, after the Ligonier Valley Study Center had been in existence for several years. It began as a newsletter with Dr. Sproul’s column, Right Now Counts Forever, and an assortment of other content. It was black and white, and it came in a large newsletter format. Then, in 1989, Tabletalk became a daily Bible study magazine and changed to a digest format. Now, forty years from its start, Tabletalk continues. Today, the magazine enjoys a circulation of more than one hundred thousand and a readership of more than 250,000 people, and it still serves as a tool for teaching the Bible to people around the world.
What goes into planning an issue of Tabletalk?
Every issue of Tabletalk requires thoughtful planning, careful communication, and tremendous work. For a single issue of Tabletalk, the process begins a year in advance of when issues are mailed to homes. Every year in January or February, the editorial team of Ligonier meets to consider themes for the next year. We discuss what topics are pressing for Christians in their everyday life. We also consider what subjects believers would enjoy reading about, and consider ideas for biblical and theological studies. There is much debate, discussion, and prayer.
In addition to this yearly meeting, each issue gets its own separate meeting as the mailing date of a particular issue gets closer. The purpose of this meeting is to plan the issue in detail. We look back at the progression of themes we developed in our annual planning meeting, and we consider how we want to approach the topic of the issue we’re considering. We establish what articles we want to do, and we also discuss the author for each article. From that discussion, we build an issue summary that describes the exact details of what the issue will look like. Using this issue summary, we invite authors to contribute articles and begin working with our talented design partner, Metaleap Creative, to create the art for the issue.
After those meetings, we begin working in the digital files for the issue about three months in advance of when the issue is mailed to homes. The editorial team transfers all of the written content received from contributors to the digital files, and the magazine begins to take shape. The issue goes through a round of electronic editing, where editors read every line and consider whether the articles are theologically accurate, grammatically correct, and stylistically appropriate. After this round of electronic editing, the magazine is printed for the first time. This first round of editing in print usually looks strange—there is no art, and sometimes the text doesn’t fit appropriately. The editors go through another round of editing in hard copy—checking again for theological accuracy, accurate grammar, and appropriate style. Finally, once the art is created and added to the magazine digitally, the issue goes through a final round of editing. The issue is reprinted with art and everything in place. This is the last editing round. At this point, the magazine is complete, and editing is minimal. The editors have addressed significant problems in the first two rounds of editing, and this third round is just to make sure the art and content are as perfect as humanly possible. Just a few weeks before issues are mailed, the magazine is uploaded to the printer in coordination with our designers. A final round of spot checking takes place before the editorial team signs off, and then the issue goes to print.
Why is Tabletalk creating a new website?
TT: Tabletalk began before the Internet enjoyed widespread use. In the ’90s, Ligonier created a website for the ministry as a whole, and eventually Tabletalk received a subdomain on that website (Ligonier.org/tabletalk). This subdomain has served Tabletalk well for years. It includes a place for sample articles and details on subscribing. Yet Tabletalk has tremendous potential for more, particularly in a digital age. We want to see the magazine have a more accessible web presence so that subscribers can easily browse back issues. We also want to be able to publish articles online that don’t necessarily appear in the magazine. And, we want to be able to publish articles in a timelier manner to address cultural and theological topics more quickly. For these reasons and more, we want to create a new website that will serve subscribers and Ministry Partners well, while also serving new readers.
What will be the difference between the print content in the magazine and the online content on the website?
The print content of the magazine will be readable online at TabletalkMagazine.com. So, TabletalkMagazine.com will be a destination for anyone who wants to read the print version of Tabletalk in their web browser. However, there will also be online-only content at TabletalkMagazine.com—content that doesn’t appear in the print magazine. These two types of content, print and online-only content, will differ.
As Tabletalk readers know, the print content of each issue is geared toward the theme of that particular issue, and each issue also has daily Bible studies and columns. This defined range for print content helps us to plan issues, invite contributors well in advance, and print the magazine in a timely manner. However, such a long timeline prohibits us from addressing momentary topics or from publishing content on subjects that might fall just outside the range of a particular issue’s theme. Moreover, because of the digest size of the magazine, each article can take up only so much space.
The online-only content will differ from the print content in that many of these constraints will not exist. Articles may be as long or as short as necessary. Moreover, the time between an article’s being received and its being published is reduced tremendously. Thus, publishing online will allow us to address various topics in a timelier manner—topics that we couldn’t address via print. And, because we won’t be publishing an article as a part of a larger issue, articles can address a broader range of content. For example, we could publish an exegetical study of a passage of Scripture in four parts over the course of four weeks. Such a study would be quite difficult to accomplish in print.
How does Tabletalk magazine serve the church?
This is such an important question because we want to make sure our readers know that Tabletalk—and indeed, Ligonier Ministries as a whole—exists only to serve and support the church. The church is the bride of Christ, and it is through her ministry that people are introduced to Christ and built up in the faith. Discipleship takes place primarily through the efforts of local churches in caring for their members, so we endeavor at Tabletalk only to support and never to supplant the church. We have only ever had one devotional study on the weekends, for example, because we do not want people using the magazine as a substitute for sitting under the preached Word of God in their local congregation. One day, Tabletalk and Ligonier will cease to exist, but the church will endure forever.
That being said, Christ has tasked the church with making disciples and teaching them to obey all that He has commanded (Matt. 28:18–20), and that is a huge task. There is so much that believers need to learn, and no one person can teach it all. Pastors do not have more hours in the day than other people do. Between counseling, preparing sermons, visiting sick members, conducting church discipline, and having to take care of their own families, pastors do not have enough time to disciple every church member individually. Elders, teachers, and others in the church help shoulder the load, but the job of teaching remains enormous no matter how many staff and volunteers a church has.
Tabletalk serves the church by supplementing its teaching ministry. The format of the magazine allows us to introduce people to subjects such as church history that are important but might not get covered extensively in the local church. We can also help keep key biblical concepts in people’s minds when a pastor may not cover them during a sermon series because the particular texts he is exegeting do not refer to those concepts. Tabletalk can also help readers go deeper into subjects that are covered in the teaching ministry of a reader’s local church but that the reader wants to spend more time exploring.
We are grateful and honored that God has used Tabletalk to support the church in these and other ways. We have talked to Bible study leaders from local churches who use Tabletalk to guide group studies. We get letters from prisoners and prison chaplains who turn to Tabletalk for help in discipleship. Mothers of young children who can attend only Sunday worship and cannot make a weekday Bible study tell us how Tabletalk encourages them in God’s Word during the week. International readers and members of our armed forces write us to explain how the magazine has helped them grow in Christ when external circumstances make it difficult or impossible to attend church services. Many people have told us that Tabletalk has given them structure for private worship, family study, and husband-and-wife devotional times that they might not otherwise have.
The editors of Tabletalk routinely pray that we would produce a product that is helpful to God’s people and the church. We do not ever want to lose sight of that, for if we do, we have failed in our mission.