First of Two Parts

One part of the media explosion in our day that has found wide use in Christian circles is the cassette.

The cassette is a member of the tape-recording family. Tape recorders and players have been around for a long time, but the bulkiness of the equipment and the vulnerability of the tapes limit their creative use by most pastors. Among the advantages offered by cassettes are simple operation and relatively inexpensive, easily carried equipment.

Cassette-makers are sprouting up everywhere. Christians with gnostic tendencies who gather in “underground” cells glory in circulating cassettes. They have about them the aura of the clandestine samizdat without the risk of discovery. Cassettes can be made by anyone who has a little imagination and relatively simple and inexpensive equipment. They are a boon to every ism in the land. The Cassette Review, a bi-monthly newsletter (1031 E. Prospect Highway, Mount Prospect, Ill. 60056—$6 yearly), lists approximately sixty-five major religious producers running from Billy Graham’s Decision Tape Library to Islamic Productions. A number of Christian schools are involved in producing and distributing cassettes: Bethany Fellowship, Columbia Bible College, Luther Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, and Regent College. Christian Bookseller Magazine periodically reviews the latest offerings of the major religion-market companies.

There are a growing number of cassette clubs, operating in the familiar pattern of book clubs. The Episcopalians have the Catacomb Cassette Club, and, from another part of the spectrum, Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Minnesota, will enroll you in its fiery evangelist-of-the-month.

There appears to be no central clearing house for cassettes as yet, and in preparing this survey I have missed many good things. Some new companies do not appreciate the value of review, and some old ones are afraid of review for one reason or another. A surprisingly large number of the companies that I solicited for review chose to ignore my request without so much as an acknowledgment.

One church advertises its cassette library in national Christian magazines. A quarter brings a list of its huge holdings, and the library lends by mail on a postage-paid basis. The Christian bookstore in my community rents cassettes at fifty cents per reel until the set is paid for and a quarter thereafter. If a satisfied customer wishes to purchase a cassette album he has rented, the rental is subtracted from the price. Some denominations have established centralized lending libraries; among these is Church Leaders Cassette Library (119 Magnolia Dr., Cedar Falls, Iowa 50163), sponsored by Midwest American Baptists.

Secular societies for the blind provide free cassette machines and tapes of novels, lectures, and the like. I hope that, if it doesn’t already exist, a similar avenue can be established for the Gospel.

When evangelicals gather in seminars across the country, often cassettes are made on the spot and are available minutes after the benediction. My own participation in the Good News Movement within United Methodism has laden me down with every sermon, lecture, and harangue offered in St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Bill Gothard’s Basic Youth Conflicts seminars forbid recording of all kinds and do not make any available. On the other hand, Step 2 (1921 N. Harlem, Chicago, Ill. 60635), geared toward imaginatively worshipful worship services, appears to live by reel spirit.

Cassette users must face an ethical matter like that of photocopying music. I know one man who records every broadcast of a radio Bible series and sends cassettes to friends and relatives across the continent. Recognizing this problem, Abbey Tape Duplicators, producers of “Living Tapes,” asks that Christians pay a fifty-cent-per-tape royalty to speakers still living.

Categories in religious cassettes include:

1. Dead Men Who Still Speak. These cassettes are really old reel-to-reel tape recordings in a new form. The Evangelical Foundation (1716 Spruce St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19103) is a distributor of everything—it seems—that the late Donald Grey Barnhouse ever said. He is worth listening to today (though it was a bit disconcerting for one message to end abruptly when the tape was exhausted before Barnhouse was!). Living Tapes (10520 Burbank Blvd., N. Hollywood, Calif. 91601) offers sermons by many now dead men such as E. Stanley Jones.

2. Living Men Worth Listening To. Discernment is needed, because many men not worth listening to have large followings. Among the better offerings are the Evangelical Foundations’ “Bible Study Hour” series with Dr. James Boice as teacher; an interesting feature is a short interview with leading evangelicals. Grace Community Church sponsors “The Word of Grace Tape Ministry” by its pastor, John MacArthur (13248 Roscoe Blvd., Sun Valley, Calif. 91352). The Lutheran Laymen’s League (2185 Hampton Ave., St. Louis, Mo. 63139) tapes messages by Oswald Hoffmann. Some men worth listening to, however, cannot be easily understood. Abingdon’s Audio-Graphics gives us William Barclay, and Abbey Tapes gives us Festo Kivengere—both speaking with British accents that make for hard listening on cassette. —DALE SANDERS, pastor, Riverside United Methodist Church, Fort Dodge, Iowa.

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