Our first house in Springdale, Arkansas was at the intersection of Meadow and Baggett. You could literally step out the back door, stand in the back yard and listen to the public address announcer for the rodeo at Parsons Stadium. The “Rodeo of the Ozarks” was one of the highlights of the year for Springdale, and was always held on the week of the 4th of July. In all the years that I lived in Springdale, and in Northwest Arkansas, I have attended the rodeo ONE time. Our Bible study group all went together, a few years back, and that was because one of our members was on the Board of Directors for the rodeo.
Our first summer in Springdale, there was one week that I went to Parsons Stadium more than all the rest of the times put together. It was for the second “Meeting of the Ozarks,” an evangelistic campaign cooperatively sponsered by many churches of Christ throughout Northwest Arkansas. In the first year, 1964, this cooperative effort there were 105 baptisms. The second year, where I am sure that my family attended every night, there were 75 baptisms. In those years, the population of Springdale was between 10-12,000 people (about 68,000 now), and the average attendance was about 4,000. This effort was one of the first large cooperative evanglistic efforts in our brotherhood, beginning a period of several years of large efforts like this.
The preacher for this effort was Jimmy Allen, a Bible professor at Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas; and it was his first meeting of this nature. I suppose since then, he has held as many meetings like this as any preacher in our fellowship. Not only did he hold as many meetings like this, but he did so because he was effective at this kind of evangelism. He was convicted about what he said, powerful in the way that he said it, and persuasive in the manner that he delivered it.
Recently, I had had the opportunity to look through a list of books from a preachers’ library, that because of health reasons, he was trying to sell. I saw several biographies, and autobiographies, that I didn’t even know existed. Luckily, I was able to get the biographies/autobiographies of Jacob Creath, James O’Kelly, C. R. Nichol, Foy E. Wallace, and Tom Holland. The one that I missed, and that I really wanted, was the Jimmy Allen autobiography. So, I began to put out on some of the Facebook groups that I was looking for a copy. Kyle Frank messaged me that he had one coming, and all he wanted to do was read it; and that we probably could work out a deal for it. We did, and I glad that we did, and I will always be indebted to Kyle. Not only did I get the book, it is an autographed copy. One other interesting aspect about this book, in the inside cover was a rather lengthy review of the volume, written by my friend Cecil May; and published in The Christian Chronicle in 2004.
Although I have met Brother Allen on several occasions, I can not say that I really know him. I heard him preach several times in 1965 in the “Meeting of the Ozarks”, he came and spoke at the Robinson Ave. church in Springdale in the mid-’70’s (and I heard him, I believe at least 2 two times), and then on various lectureships and workshops. Several of my acquaintances took courses that he taught at Harding, and raved about what a great teacher he was. Every one has opinions, but in my opinion, he was one of the three best at conducting evangelistic gospel meetings (or revivals, as he often calls them in the book), in our fellowship. The other two, in my opinion, were Charles Coil and Harvey Starling (both of whom are mentioned in the book).
This book is a relatively easy read, (about 250 pages) and I finished it in only couple of days. There are a few observations that I want to make about the book, and why the story it tells was so meaningful to me.
First, for someone that I did not know, it is amazing to me all of the intersections that my life had with Brother Allen. Let me mention just a few. On page 44, he begins by telling the story of his conversion at Harding College, and the part the “Chick” Allison played in it. He sat by him in chapel, and played against him on the basketball court. He described him as being “as fast as double-geared lightning” on a basketball court. A little over 20 years after, when I was a sophomore at York College, the young man that lived right across the hall from me, and was the point guard on our college team, was Ron Allison (Chick’s son). Beginning on page 50, and continuing on to page 51, he tells the story of playing basketball against Harvey Starling. Here is what he has to say: “He was at least six feet and five inches tall and I was only six feet tall. How could I guard him? Well, I stood behind him on defense with me knees in back of his knees to keep him off balance and every time he attempted to shoot the ball, I grabbed him by the shorts (no, I did not foul out!). … Talk about angry, he was blazing, when the game ended. He put a long, skinny finger in my face and said, ‘Allen, I will never play against you again as long as I live.’ I replied, ‘Harvey, I had to do something to equalize things.’ My motto has always been, ‘Don’t foul unless it is necessary.’ Starling was an outstanding Christian while a student and he has preached all over the world. We are still friends and love one another.” As I mentioned earlier, those are two of the three greatest “revival” preachers that I know of (in my opinion). Also, on pages 62 and 63, in a section where Jimmy Allen talks about the men who influenced him, you will find this statement: “Thomas Howard Sherrill was the preacher for the Downtown church in Searcy when I first met him. He soon left and went to the Holden Avenue church in Newport, Arkansas. … More than once, I have said, ‘I wish T. H. could have been my father,’ and I meant it. … We never had a preacher in Newport more loved than he. After he died, the editor of the local newspaper asked, in essence, how could the community manage without him.” From the time I was about 7 years old, until I was about 15, Bill Sherrill (T. H. Sherrill’s son) was the preacher where I went to church, and my mother was his secretary a great part of that time. I still call him “my preacher”, and about once a month I post one of his devotionals on this blog site. My memory is not real good, but I’m pretty sure that I heard Jimmy Allen preach at the Midland Boulevard church in Fort Smith (before we moved to Springdale), and it seems seems like that there was some friendly, and loving, banter back and forth between Bill and Jimmy. Finally, on page 152, Jimmy Allen makes this statement: “The four best male friends I have had in this world are Mel Snook, Jack Gray, Charles Coil (whose funeral I helped to conduct in December, 1994 (typo in the book, where it says 1964)), and Jerry Jones.” It is really interesting that 2 of those 4, are almost directly responsible for my preaching today. In 1972, when I changed my life, and made the decision that led to me becoming a preacher, Jack Gray was the local preacher at the Thompson Street church in Springdale. When International Bible College decided that they would not accept me as a student, because of my less than stellar academic performance at York College, Jack Gray called Charles Coil to plead my case. So, if Jack Gray had not made that phone call, and Charles Coil had not taken me under his wing and mentored me, I might not be typing this today. Like I said, some of the people that impacted his life, also impacted mine.
Reading this book, was not like listening to Jimmy Allen preach, but it was like listening to him talk. It is about 250 pages long, and it wrapped me up and kept interested (and not wanting to quit) all the way through. It would be an interesting read for anyone that has been active in the churches of Christ in the last 60 years (particularly in Arkansas), or those that had any connection with Harding College (now University). If you have not read it, try to find a copy and read it. If you buy a copy, they are selling on Amazon, Abe, or Alibris for about $50.00. You might want to look in a church library, or see if your preacher has one that you can borrow — you will be glad that you did.
Let me close this, with one thing I did not like about the book, and two things that I did like;
#1. The main thing that I did not like, is that there were several times he started off a section by saying “Maybe this should not be written but with my ego, I supposed that it had to be included.” It would have been my preference that he either had not put that, or had not told what he was going to tell. In the places where he said this, one or the other would have been best (again, that is my opinion).
#2. There are a lot of things that I liked, and enjoyed about his book, but one thing that stood out to me was on page 201, where he says: No Christian teacher wants to be tossed to an from by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14), however, all disciples are obligated to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18). A brother who says, ‘I haven’t changed any of my Biblical views in the last twenty-five years,’ has not had his head in the Bible. Furthermore, he would make a stagnant, mosquito-infested, mud hole look like fresh water! In teaching others, we are continually asking them to change from error to truth. We should be willing to practice the same. If I was right on some matters thirty years ago, it is clear that I am now wrong. If I was wrong then, I am right now. This is true because I have changed on some subjects.” It is my conviction, that this is the kind of spirit that all of us should have.
#3. Finally, on page 243, where Brother Allen is considering “FUTURE PROBLEMS” in the church, he makes this statement: Jesus prayed for the unity of his people (Jno. 17:20-22). We should too. However, I can say after fifty-four years in the church, we have become division personified. I have never seen us worse polarized.” He wrote than in 2004, and I believe that is more true in 2018 than it was then. I really identify, with a statement on the next page: “I am too liberal for churches where I used to preach and I am too conservative for some of the others.” In the last couple of years, as I have become more familiar with out fellowship; I have struggled to find a place that I fit.
As I said earlier, I really enjoyed this book. I hope that this review has whetted your desire to want to read it. I appreciate your taking the time to read this lengthy look at some of the things in the book.