Gary Millar and Phil Campbell. Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake. Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media, 2013. $16.99.
Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Preaching and pastoring are a close second. At home, I praise God for a wonderful helper in my wife who has encouraged and rebuked me with much grace in order to help me become a better parent. Unfortunately, I struggled for years to find such help in preaching. Sure, I read all the preaching books and went to many preaching conferences. However, with few exceptions, there was little practical instruction.
That said, Gary Millar and Phil Campbell have written Saving Eutychus for folks just like me. In fact, I think this is the best “how to” preaching book I’ve ever read. Let me explain.
What This Book Is Not
Though Saving Eutychus is a preaching book, it’s not John Stott’s Between Two Worlds. It doesn’t address the history of preaching or its obstacles; it doesn’t deal with the theological foundations for preaching or how to cross the cultural gulf between the text and the hearers. Neither is it Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching, addressing the principles of expository preaching and breaking down the process of preparation step by step.
It’s important to note, however, that these distinctions are not critiques, since Millar and Campbell do not intend for Saving Eutychus to be a book like Stott or Chapell’s. Instead, they aim to assist struggling preachers like myself who already have their foundations laid.
What This Book Is
Saving Eutychus is a “how to” book in the best sense of the phrase. Millar and Campbell desire to help us struggling preachers. They remind us—and we need to hear this—that “when attention wanders and eyes drop (during our sermons), it’s more often our fault than our listeners’.” Millar, principal of Queensland Theological College in Brisbane, Australia, thus rightly begins by exhorting both preacher and hearer to prayer (chapter 1).
As it relates to the sermon itself, Millar follows Jonathan Edwards in exhorting preachers to deliver sermons that “move the affections.” As the 18th-century Northampton pastor remarked, “Such a way of preaching [as] has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend these means, is much to be desired.” Millar contends that preaching that rightly affects the heart must be that which makes plain the message of the text. “Expository preaching, then, isn’t simply one technique or approach among many,” he explains, “it’s the model that allows Scripture to speak most clearly and powerfully.”
Wait a minute, you say. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Yes and no. And this is where Millar and Campbell are most helpful; they show preachers the “how” of faithful exposition without being dull and boring. Campbell, in particular, helps us see why preachers tend to be boring, as he diligently exposes common mistakes (such as lack of clarity) and exhorts us to be both precise and also concise in our wording and to make use of purposeful repetition (chapter 3). In chapter 4, Campbell, who is in his 25th year of pastoral ministry and lectures on preaching at Queensland Theological College, leads us step by step through the process of discovering the “big idea” of a given passage. He also reveals how he works through a particular text of Scripture in preparation for a Sunday sermon (chapter 8). Finally, Campbell helps us work through Christ-centered application, a great weakness in much expository preaching today.
Millar wisely reminds pastors, however, that it’s not enough to preach practical, expository sermons; our expositions must be distinctly Christian. Thus he walks us through biblical-theological ways to preach the gospel, particularly from the Old Testament (chapter 5).
The strength of Saving Eutychus is its practicality. It is an expository, Christ-centered preaching workshop in book form. Even in the chapters mentioned above, the authors provide practical examples of what they exhort us to do. Campbell addresses speech and communication principles such as pitch, volume, and pace of speech (chapter 6). I think most of us, however, will be helped by the practical instruction on how to give and receive sermon critique (chapter 7). Millar and Campbell include sermons they have preached, along with one another’s critiques, and even provide a sample sermon feedback form in the appendices.
Careful About Contexts
And yet, while this book is helpful, we must be careful about our particular preaching contexts. I’m not certain why Millar and Campbell insist on particularly brief sermons. At 23 minutes (Campbell’s preference), Eutychus would barely have time to fall asleep—even in a boring sermon! Millar takes almost a full 30 minutes to preach. Don’t get me wrong: long sermons are not necessarily better, and shorter sermons may be quite good, provided they are faithful to the text and applied to life through the lens of the gospel. These authors are faithful to do that. But I find my congregation requires deeper unpacking of the text, and since I pastor a multi-ethnic congregation, I have to think more carefully about application.
One additional thing: I’m not as convinced as Campbell about the place of speech and communication theory in preaching. Campbell suggests that “a lot depends on the skills and habits that contribute to your verbal energy—the ingredients of vitality and verve that either enliven or eviscerate the same words from the lips of two different speakers.” To be sure, the authors are conscious about not manipulating hearers. And yet I wonder if some may be unhelpfully tempted to “spice up” their sermons by concentrating on speech communication and delivery methods. Perhaps the better counsel is to simply be yourself in the pulpit.
Nevertheless, Saving Eutychus is the best little “how to” preaching book I’ve encountered. In fact, after reading, I bought 10 copies to give away. Millar and Campbell have done struggling preachers like me a tremendous service in providing this preaching workshop in a book. I hope you benefit from it as much as I have already.