Book Review: Saving Eutychus, by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell
Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake. Matthias Media, 2013. 176 pages.
If you are a preacher or an aspiring preacher, you should buy, read, and put this book into practice. Don’t take my word for it. D. A. Carson asserts, “Many books on preaching are published every year; this one is a ‘must.’” And Alistair Begg adds, “This book deserves to be included in the ‘must read’ category of preachers.” The strength of Saving Eutychus is the authors’ ability to make a persuasive appeal for expository preaching and then to practically show us how to do it.
Millar emphasizes two key elements in his definition of expository preaching: the text and the heart. True expository preaching is bringing the text of God’s Word to bear upon the hearts of people. Millar writes, “Expository preaching happens when the message of the text = the message of the sermon. Or perhaps better, expository preaching happens when the vibe of the passage = the vibe of the sermon” (31). Every text possesses a message and an ethos. The preacher’s task is to craft and communicate his sermon so that the main point and ethos of the text is main point and ethos of the sermon.
Expository preaching is not simply the relaying of knowledge or a download of information. The goal is that we both understand and feel the message of the text. So, authentic expository preaching includes the mind and the heart, the intellect and the affections. As you read the authors’ definition of preaching, you might want to stand up and preach. I did.
Although they don’t address it until chapter five, the authors’ definition and understanding of expository preaching is not complete without mentioning their insistence that every sermon be a gospel sermon. Millar writes, “…no matter what the passage is, it’s essential that we never bury the gospel of what Jesus had done in an avalanche of great ideas about what we need to do. We want to preach the gospel—that is, we want to remind people of the grace that God has shown us in the Lord Jesus Christ” (77).
Gospel preaching demands that the preacher understand that the message of the Bible is the message of the gospel, from Genesis to Revelation. Therefore, the preacher’s ability to read and preach every smaller text in light of this one grand story is “absolutely fundamental” (86). This means that the preacher must be committed to learning and doing biblical theology. As Millar writes, “So our aim is to preach in a way that is shaped by biblical theology. This requires doing the hard word of hermeneutics and biblical theology…” (99). Millar goes on to explain nine different paths that will lead the preacher from Old Testament text to the hope of the gospel found in Jesus.
Although the book’s definition of expository preaching is strong, the unique contribution of Saving Eutychus is that the authors go on to explain how we can actually preach an expositional sermon. Some fear that expositional preaching is necessarily “dull and boring” (43). Should this be the case? No, because the Bible is anything but boring! Some will simply not listen to a biblical sermon, but the authors rightly recognize the preacher’s responsibility to work at clearly and effectively communicating what is an inherently captivating message. At this point, the authors offer a wealth of practical counsel.
My favorites included the authors’ stress on the importance of clarity. “Clarity is the new black” (47). How can we achieve clarity? The authors propose that we “master the art of natural scripting—writing exactly the words you’d naturally speak, exactly the way you’d naturally say them” (45). When done rightly, natural scripting increases clarity while at the same time allowing for spontaneity.
Another favorite is to “make the ‘big idea’ shape everything you say” (51). State the big idea of your sermon in one sentence; everything else in the sermon should serve to support the big idea. The authors also provide a number of helpful tips for clear, engaging communication such as using ordinary words and short sentences, repeating yourself often, and retelling narratives in the present tense.
In chapter seven, Millar explains the benefits of submitting ourselves to regular sermon critique from a group of trusted peers. And, finally, in chapter eight, Campbell allows us to walk with him through his process of writing a sermon.
Although any preacher would benefit greatly from reading Saving Eutychus, I do offer a couple of friendly critiques. In chapter eight, Campbell provides us with an example of one of his sermons, which he concludes with a video. Video can obviously be powerful, but I question the wisdom of regularly using video in the context of a sermon. A regular use of videos tends to make the preacher lazy. The preacher doesn’t have to think through illustration and application; just plug and play (See Millar’s critique of Campbell’s sermon, 143-44). Further, the regular use of video in preaching has the potential to communicate that the Bible cannot hold a congregation’s attention and is less than the most interesting, captivating book ever written.
I also wish the authors would have discussed how the preacher can faithfully feed the sheep and effectively speak to the non-Christian from every biblical text. Christians and non-Christians have both similar and unique questions, concerns, hopes, and fears. How can the expositor address each while faithfully preaching through biblical texts?
Saving Eutychus is one of the most helpful books I’ve read on preaching. Millar and Campbell have written a book that is both theologically sound and immensely practical. I hope you find it as helpful as I did.