It was the late nineties, cassette tapes were still a thing. Each semester, each of us would spend our hard-earned cash to buy a box of cassettes that contained through-the-Bible teachings by Pastor Chuck. Each week, one of our Calvary Chapel Bible College (CCBC) assignments was to listen to six or seven of those teachings, taking notes along the way.
Chuck, of course, was notorious for his deliberate cadence, complete with long pauses that made you wonder if it was time to flip the tape to side B. Because of his slow pace and the many hours it took to complete this assignment, lots of us toyed with ways of speeding up the man. Some students chose the deluxe option, purchasing variable speed tape players that enabled them to retain Chuck’s baritone pitch. Others went the more frugal route and used the high-speed dubbing option on a dual deck to put Chuck on chipmunk mode. Intelligible? Yes. Hilarious? Also yes.
Well, it’s an unwritten rule in Bible college settings that some people must appear to be more holy than others, and one big mark of holiness in my era was to refuse to speed Chuck up. If you were a single-speeder, you were right up there with Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, or the Apostle Paul. If you must know, I was not in this holy elite but only admired them from the base of the mountain. On the outskirts of the Tabernacle, I peered in from time to time at these ultra-spiritual pillars of consecration, wondering if I would ever have the chops to take up my cross, die to myself, and listen on single speed.
This question was put to me afresh one beautiful Saturday morning in the middle of a sunny spring semester. I had just worked a graveyard shift and was about three hours into sleep when a neighboring student began blasting their Chuck tapes at an ungodly volume. Immediately, I lost all sense of admiration for every single-speeder on campus and began judging this self-righteous Pharisee for their need to let us all know how holy they were. There I was, in my innocence, trying to sleep, but they had to let the whole world know of their resolve and conviction. They should have been content to refuse to let their left hand know what their right hand was doing, but instead, they needed to let the whole student body know that single speed was the only true path to holiness.
I was livid, and after trying to power through it and fall back asleep, the astounding volume threw me out of my bed and to the back window of my dormitory. “Turn Chuck down!” I shouted. I’m not a quiet guy, and it was not a quiet plea. I knew it would do the trick, and I went back to bed.
But the minutes ticked by, and there was no discernible change in the volume. I lay there shocked, in total disbelief that someone would so forcefully throw their conviction in my face. I thought of the Judaizers in Paul’s day—this must’ve been how Paul felt.
So I opened the window again and announced my plea. “Turn Chuck down!” Again, nothing. Two or three more times, I attempted to break through the sound barrier to penetrate the Pharisaical heart of my fellow student—”Turn Chuck down!”
But nothing changed. Finally, defeated, I decided to begin my day, but I couldn’t get any decent Bible reading done in an environment like that. There was too much noise from outside the room and inside my flesh. I had to get out of there, so I packed my bag and headed to the library.
Now, the front door of my dorm led to a large concrete porch that overlooked a beautiful grassy hill. When I opened that door to leave my room, I was a bit surprised to find that porch and hill filled with people. Hundreds of my fellow students sprawled all over the hillside, attentive and alert. And I was even more surprised to see, at the bottom of the hill, at a small pulpit, Pastor Chuck Smith teaching his Saturday morning book of Acts class!
Avoiding eye contact, I put my head down and mouthed the words, “Turn Chuck down!” I hoped against hope that no one had heard me. But again, I’m not a quiet guy.
This joyful and embarrassing memory aside, like so many others, I thank God often for the exposure to the Word of God that I found through Pastor Chuck. His steady exposition, on tape and in person, gave me a firm foundation and a model to emulate. And now, many years later, I celebrate the grace of God and the knowledge of Scripture that poured through that man to my heart. I praise God for his life and ministry and pray that the work God began in him will find its faithful completion in so many of us who received it.
To whom much is given, much is required. And through Chuck Smith, single speed or otherwise, many of us were given a ton.