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.