He Looked for a City: A Biography of John T. Lewis



Book: He Looked for a City: A Biography of John T. Lewis

Author: Ottis L. Castleberry

Publisher: Cogdill Foundation Publications, 1980


Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Teens and adults

Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Castleberry, Ottis L.  He Looked for a City: A Biography of John T. Lewis (published in 1980 by Cogdill Foundation Publications, P. O. Box 88, Fairmount, IN  46928).  When I was growing up, I often heard visiting preachers from the Birmingham, AL, area talk about the influence of John Thomas Lewis (1876-1967), a long-time gospel preacher in Birmingham.  Born at Stone’s Run, TN, near Murfreesboro, Lewis worked his way through to graduation in 1906 from the Nashville Bible School, forerunner of David Lipscomb University, where he was a student for almost ten years beginning in 1898, then moved  in 1907 to preach with the single small congregation meeting at Fox Hall in Birmingham.  He remained in the city for the next sixty years, in essence the rest of his life, helping to start many other congregations throughout the area and laboring as located preacher with several of them.

This is not a typical biography which begins with someone’s birth and early life and then discusses the person’s activities in fairly chronological order down to the time of old age and death.  Rather, it is more of a topographical biography.  After an introductory chapter summarizing Lewis’s work in Birmingham and a  couple of chapters describing the history of preaching the primitive gospel in Alabama generally and Birmingham specifically, there are chapters on Lewis’s arrival in Birmingham, his “halcyon days” at Nashville Bible School, his preaching trips in the Northeast, his marriage to Della Sanders, his childhood days, his evangelistic work, letters written to him, his own writings, his lighter side, and finally his senior years and “homecoming.”  The final chapter details his legacy through remembrances by others.  It is virtually a history of churches of Christ in Birmingham.

Author Ottis Castleberry grew up in Birmingham under the influence of John T. Lewis.  When the book was written, he was a professor of speech communication at California State University, Long Beach, having served previously in similar positions at Pennsylvania State University and Colgate University.  In addition, he has labored as a minister with churches of Christ for many years.  The book was originally published by the Cogdill Foundation which is now the Guardian of Truth Foundation of Athens, AL, which operates C. E. I. Bookstore.  It is an interesting account of a fascinating life, but unfortunately is no longer in print.  I will add that brother Lewis held some positions which are not universally characteristic in churches of Christ, such as opposition to a Christian’s involvement in warfare or even holding positions in civil government, teaching that a woman must wear an artificial covering in worship, and believing that a person must kneel in public prayer if at all possible.  However, Castleberry points out that he did not treat these convictions as “salvation issues” or make them a test of fellowship.

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