In April 1939, a young preacher from Oklahoma approached the managers of two midwest radio stations. Theodore Epp later admitted he was quite afraid when he entered that Lincoln, Nebraska office. However, he boldly stated, "We note that you have everything in your broadcasts that people want except something from the heart." He asked for an opportunity to remedy that.
Naturally, the managers wondered how the program would be financed. Epp at the time had only $65. The pastor replied that the same Partner who had underwritten his ministry costs for the last 12 years would handle the broadcast expenses. That partner, of course, was God.
Epp had gone in expecting to buy a 30-minute daily slot. Instead, he was offered a daily 15 minutes at $4.50 a program. He accepted. On this day, May 1, 1939 Back to the Bible aired for the first time. It is one of Christian radio's venerable programs.
Epp's short devotionals attracted a wide audience as more and more stations signed on for them. In a typical lesson, Epp described how Jacob undermined his testimony with Esau by pretending he would meet him in Seir when he had no intention of doing so. Said Epp, "Words that are not supported by actions turn many people away from the Gospel. This is one reason the present-day church has lost rapport with the world. We are not direct in making our position with God known, and because of half-truths and timidity we are not winning people to the Lord as we should."
Many notable Christians have been associated with Back to the Bible, including Elisabeth Elliot and Warren Wiersbe.
Indeed, Warren Wiersbe became General Director after Epp's retirement, a position he held until 1990. Although generally in the mainstream of conservative and fundamentalist Christianity, Back to the Bible's adoption of new ministry methods in the last two decades has led to criticism that it has sold out to ecumenism and psychology. Conservatives have complained about changes in its theology and its use of modern translations.
Theodore Epp's vision lives on, however. As the 21st century began, Back to the Bible's broadcasts were heard in 22 languages around the world, and it continued to produce and distribute Christian material in many formats in its efforts to reach the world for Christ.
- Erickson, Hal. Religious Radio and Television in the United States. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, c1992.
- Hill, George H. Airwaves to the soul : the influence and growth of religious broadcasting in America. Saratoga, California: R & E Publishers, 1983.
- "Our History." Back to the Bible. http://www.backtothebible.org/aboutus/history.htm.
- Various internet articles.