Table Talk and the Journey of Faith

Tim Evans describes his experience of ‘Table Talk’ and how it has impacted his faith.

It’s impossible for to talk about the impact of table talk on me, without describing my own journey of faith. As with all stories, I hope it finds resonance with you even though each story is unique.

I became an Christian at University in quite a traditional ‘encounter with Jesus’ kind of way. I didn’t initially have the theology but I knew something had changed. I was shaped by attending charismatic evangelical churches, for which I will always be grateful in ‘getting me going.’ I am still shaped not only by those experiences, but by the notion that it is possible to encounter and be shaped and changed by God.

None of what I’m going on to say should be taken as a slight on my evangelical friends, nor do I believe we inhabit a different faith. It’s just that my journey has taken me in a different direction in some differing understandings of faith, life, God and the world.

In my passionate Christianity I ended up working for an evangelical mission agency and that’s where things began to unwind. I found myself studying the Evangelical Alliance Statement of Faith I had been asked to sign, which started a journey of emotional, spiritual and intellectual searching.

I had never really asked myself the hard questions about my faith before, but found at head, heart and gut level that I didn’t really make sense of my encounter with God in the way that statement set out, to the point where I wasn’t sure I believed in God at all.

My encounter with Table Talk was at such a crucial point on my journey, that its hard to say where I would be today without it. I had intellectually read about Stages of Faith by authors such as James Fowler, John Westerhoff and Scott Peck. So, somewhere in me was a sense that even though it was really painful, and others might see me as ‘backsliding’, that sticking with things rather than giving up was moving in a positive direction.

Alan Jamieson wrote a great little book called ‘A Churchless Faith‘ all about the need to create spaces for people at all stages of faith wrestling with issues of life, faith, theology… Table Talk was just that for me. At one level a simple concept. Food together, someone opening up a subject, a facilitated open conversation.

Nothing seen as heresy, no question too stupid, the hearing of perspectives from fellow travellers rather than just ‘experts’, the dynamic of eating together rather than a classroom, lecture hall, support group. I loved it!

In the group I was really difficult. I was in a painful place where much of what I had built my life on for the previous 10 years I felt was crumbling around me. I had the questions many have; hell, an inerrant Bible, violent atonement, beautiful people of other faiths.

I am the kind of person who learns by debating and arguing things, even if that means ending up in a different place from where I started. But gradually – emotionally, intellectually and spiritually – I began to not just heal but to find some theological tools, frameworks, and understandings which enabled me to stay being a follower of Jesus.

I came to understand that at the root of it all wasn’t whether I believed in God, or whether Jesus was worth following, but the perception of God the theological tradition I had been nurtured in had given me and which I had assimilated.

Not only did the change in understanding impact me personally, but the framework of thinking and values so excited me, that for the past 14 years I have been CEO of an organisation built on those things I grappled with and learnt though the 5 years or so of being a regular at Table Talks.

All this has helped me try and be there for others who’ve been on a similar journey. I have an enormous debt of gratitude to that group of fellow Table Talkers who allowed a struggling, emotional, angsty person to explore how his faith and life might be put back together.

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