Saving Eutychus: How to preach God’s word and keep people awake by Garry Millar and Phil Campbell
This new book on preaching, Saving Eutychus, by an Irishman and an Aussie, Garry Millar and Phil Campbell is breath of fresh air in terms of book on preaching. The authors do not conjure up anything radically new but seek to be faithful and attentive in writing about preaching. The book is divided up into 8 short chapters with two appendixes that deal with sermon critique and resources. Part of the premise of the book is that ‘when attention wanders and eyes droop, it’s more often our fault (preachers) than our listeners’ (14). In other words, the challenge is to be faithful is getting across the powerful message of the biblical text while applying what God is saying that cuts to the heart while opening the ears of our listeners.
The first chapter by Gary was a good reminder that preaching isn’t all about us, or the preacher. Gary writes, “Gradually, we seem to be losing sight of the fact that God uses weak and sinful people, and that he uses them only by grace….He uses people (even preachers) because he is gracious” (21). This truth of God’s grace in the midst of weakness gives us encouragement to pray before we speak while praying also for others. I have to admit I was a little surprised that a book devoted to preaching started out talking about prayer. But, I really think Gary struck a chord with me. How can we as preachers continue on preaching away without first engaging the real needs of our people in prayer? There is a strong connection between prayer and preaching that brings together the needs of our people and the Word of God. Secondly, I would add that a firm conviction to pray throughout the week for our preaching and people develops a keen sensitivity in applying God’s Word to our people in the midst of preaching. The resolutions that Gary gives to pray for our own preaching and having the church pray together for the preaching brings great comfort to those behind the pulpit (22).
One of my favorite chapters was entitled deadly, dull and boring. In this chapter, Phil examines the art of natural scripting, writing out the words you want to speak exactly how you would speak them. This practice is very helpful because it brings together your thoughts from a personal tone rather than focusing too much on specific memorized words or phrases. As Phil goes onto explain how clarity is key in natural scripting, he develops some important tips for being clearer. One of the points I resonated with was his point of illustrations. Phil writes, “Don’t sweat over illustrating the complicated stuff – just illustrate the obvious! …The simple images and ideas in your passage will trigger all the stories and associations you need: you’ll be swamped with possibilities, and you can use them when you need them” (58). Using the example of Israel being ripe and overripe fruit, Gary is quick to point out how this works. What I enjoyed here is the fact that I’m constantly trying to illustrate the complex when often the most obvious illustrations will stick with the people. The issue of clarity is my biggest struggle in preaching and this chapter was a balm to my soul.
Issues ranging from preaching Christ from the Old Testament, hard texts, and application are all included in this wonderful book on preaching. I was impressed by the bringing together of faithful engagement with the Bible and focus on application that is sorely needed in our congregations.
Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Matthias Media for the copy of this book in exchange for review.