With the new year comes a new season of Tabletalk. Chris Donato recently offered a look at some of the topics that will be covered in 2010. Today we have an interview with Robert Rothwell about the daily devotionals that have been a Tabletalk staple for so many years.
Why does Tabletalk include daily devotional pages?
We have included devotional pages in Tabletalk for nearly twenty years because we know that people are looking for tools to help them study Scripture. Since there are not very many explicitly Reformed daily devotionals out there, we think it is important to provide a resource that helps people understand Scripture just as those who have come before us in the faith have understood God’s Word. In doing the devotions we endeavor to be faithful to that which was first delivered to the saints and has been repeated by great Christian leaders like Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Warfield, Machen, and, of course, Dr. Sproul.
What did you and the Tabletalk editorial team select to examine in the 2010 Tabletalk studies and why?
Our practice is to alternate studies between the Old Testament and New Testament each year or two. Since we had been in the New Testament in 2008 and 2009, we saw that it was time to return to the Old Testament. We decided to do a study of how various Old Testament themes are fulfilled in the new covenant in order to take a bit of a new approach to our devotionals and to help us all learn how to read the whole Bible more accurately.
What resources do you use to help you write the daily studies?
There are probably too many to list, but certainly Calvin’s commentaries and any materials by Dr. Sproul on the particular passage being studied are consulted. I also use the best modern commentaries and rely on my own knowledge from my seminary years, as well as my personal theological reading.
How do you map out a year’s worth of studies?
Our regular practice is to go through one or more books of the Bible, so I divide the total number of verses in the books we are studying by 12 to get an approximate amount of material that has to be covered each month. Taking that information, I then look for logical breaks in the text and lay out the year the best I can. I have to account for a week or so each month when we do studies based on a series by Dr. Sproul. Sometimes what I have laid out for a particular day may change when I actually go to write the studies, but that does not happen very often. When it does happen, I have to make any necessary alterations to the entire schedule so that we do not skip a verse.
Explain the process involved with producing one daily study.
Of course, the entire basis of writing a study is bathed in prayer. Aside from that, the first step is to read the text and note any difficulties the passage might raise or whether the text has been particularly important in the history of Christian theology. Then, I read through several commentaries to see if I have missed anything, and I look for quotes that might be helpful in conveying the point of the passage. After making a basic outline of where I want the study to go and what I want to cover, I sit down to write the study. At that point, I will edit it at least three more times myself, and the other editors will edit it at least twice. The studies are edited all at once, and not individually as I finish them.
How do you decide what to write about in each study?
Deciding what to write about in each study is based largely on what I note in reading the passage. I will usually try to explain any potential difficulties in the passage or customs that are strange to those of us in the twenty-first century. If the text has been misused in other theological traditions, I will also try to note that. In any given month, I generally strive to maintain a balance between more doctrinally-oriented studies and more practical, Christian-living type studies. If I can bring together both of these elements equally well in a study, then I feel particularly successful.
How do you come up with the For Further Study passages?
The “miracle” of online concordances is a great help when it comes to the For Further Study passages located at the bottom of the daily studies. If the main point of a study, for example, is regeneration, then I will search through such concordances using words like regeneration, new heart, born again, new birth, and so on. From the results I try to pick passages that seem particularly relevant to the study and that have not been used so far in the year, or, if they have been used, passages that I have not included in a study for several months. Sometimes I pick passages based on overarching themes that may not seem pertinent to the study on first reading but which are related if the suggested passage is carefully considered. Often, I also pick passages that provide a contrast with the theme of the study to show us what not to do or believe. I guess the main point is that I am not always looking for proof texts but for passages with a deep, underlying contribution to the point at hand.
What are some of the most difficult things about writing the daily studies?
By far the most difficult part about writing the study is the tiny amount of space in which I have to deal with a book that is so rich in meaning. Depending on the length of the words I use, I only have 450–500 words in which to expound the Scriptures, and it is challenging to fit everything into a study. Sometimes I cannot talk about certain points at all simply because of a lack of space.
It can also be challenging to vary the vocabulary and transitions in each study. I am trying hard not to be repetitive and to write text that flows well, so that requires paying attention to synonyms, the way I begin each study, and so on.
What are the greatest blessings that come with writing the daily studies?
Oh, there are too many to list. The greatest blessing of all is the fact that my job is essentially to study the Word of God full-time. I have learned so much about Scripture and doctrine simply because I must sit down and spend several hours on most days reading the Bible and applying it to myself and to our readers.
I am also blessed to sit under the teaching of Dr. Sproul, who continually amazes me with the simple and yet profound way he is able to explain the great doctrines of the faith. He is passionate for the truth and working in an environment where the truth of God’s Word is prized above all else is a blessing that I can hardly fathom at times.
One last blessing that I want to mention is the joy that comes from working with the core Tabletalk team — Burk Parsons, Chris Donato, Keith Mathison, Scott Devor, Monty Morgan, Geoff Stevens, and, in years past, Kevin Struyk. I have learned so much from each of them theologically and personally in ways that I cannot begin to describe. We have a great camaraderie and they make it exciting to come to work every morning.
What do you and the other Tabletalk editors hope that readers will get out of the 2010 daily studies?
I think that above all else we hope our 2010 studies on the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the New will help readers gain a deeper understanding of the unity of the Bible and the marvelous way in which God has kept His promises to His people. If we can encourage our readers to get further into the study of Scripture on their own, then our work here has been successful.