Saving Eutychus: A Review
Saving Eutychus is co-authored by Gary Miller and Phil Campbell. Miller currently serves as the Principle of Queensland Theological College where Campbell lectures on preaching. Campbell also has served in pastoral ministry for the past 25 years.
Intentionally leaving little unknown about their purpose in writing one has to look no farther than the books subtitle to discover their thesis: How to preach God’s word and keep people awake. Therefore, this work takes a different approach than other books on preaching. Instead of moving from start to finish, text to delivery, the authors begin by emphasizing the importance of prayer. Noting the recent resurgence of biblical preaching in evangelicalism Miller and Campbell question whether this resurgence has been complimented with serious prayer for preaching. Thus, they implore readers to realize that preaching is not about the preacher. In order to encourage readers to prayer the author’s stress that churches should pray in community for the pastor and his preaching.
Aiming for preaching that “changes the heart,” Miller and Campbell argue for an expositional preaching style. They encourage readers to allow the main point of the sermon to come directly from the text. Desiring not to add simply a method preference the authors discuss various passages of Scripture, which speak to the Bibles unique and sufficient power.
To avoid dry and boring preaching the authors offer several tips on how to keep preaching faithful, yet interesting. Miller and Campbell argue for preaching from a full manuscript. They are convinced that the main key to not being dull is to know exactly what one is going to say, exactly the way it is going to be said. To compliment this argument they add ten tips for being a clear preacher. These tips are concerned with repetition, writing as one would speak rather than being grammatically correct, using shorter sentences, along with others. Thus, presentation for Miller and Campbell is as important as the content of the sermon.
The biggest part of being clear for Miller and Campbell is discovering the big idea of the text. This big idea is to drive the entire sermon and should be derived from the main point of the text. To discover the big idea the authors encourage readers to create two columns on a sheet of paper. In the left column the expositor is to rewrite the text by hand, indenting phrases that begin with words like because, since, and therefore. Once this is done the preacher can take note of repeated words and themes. In the right hand column the preacher is to write any observation or questions they may have about the text. Furthermore, the authors recommend thinking about application after working through the text and discovering the big idea so to not distort the meaning of the text.
Their desire to be true to the meaning of the text leads Miller and Campbell to advocate a christocentric interpretation of Scripture. Thus, they encourage readers to become learned in biblical theology. For those who may not be aware of this discipline they appeal to classic texts by Goldsworthy and Roberts along with more recent works by Carson and Hamilton. They offer several different avenues or routes to approach the text, but ultimately they all have the aim of preaching in a manner shaped by the unfolding narrative of Scripture.
Miller and Campbell end the book by discussing the need of sermon critique. They argue that sermon feedback is profitable for the preacher no matter how painful the criticism might be. To compliment this suggestion each author contributes a sermon with a lengthy critique to follow.
Although I have never heard either of the authors preach I can certainly say that I had no trouble staying awake while reading this book. Its humorous approach combined with its passionate call for faithful preaching made this book a delight to read. The clarity of the authors was more than encouraging considering the books subject matter.
The most convicting section of the book is without doubt the call to prayer. Gary Miller writes with biblical conviction and places the priority of preparation on depending on the Lord rather than self. Miller writes, “God doesn’t use people because they are gifted. He used people (even preachers) because he is gracious. Do we really believe that? If we do believe it, then we will pray- we will pray before we speak, and we will pray for others before the speak.” This is exactly the call the church needs. Thank God Gary stepped up to give it.
Miller and Campbell are absolutely right to encourage readers to preach in light of biblical theology. It is also very encouraging that they see validity in different routes of biblical theology. They choose not to emphasize one route over the other. Miller and Campbell should be commended for distinguishing between doing biblical theology and preaching in light of biblical theology. Doing the former will put hearers to sleep, but doing the latter will edify the body.
More than most books on preaching Miller and Campbell focus on presentation. This is a surprisingly helpful section of the work. Never before has this writer seen a discussion on presentation more applicable. Readers will be able to turn to the book time and time again to fix idiosyncrasies in their preaching. All the while the Miller and Campbell never distract from biblical faithfulness and rich theological content. It is this aspect of the book that requires that it be read by anyone who wants to improve their preaching.
There are a few concerns that can be mentioned, but nothing that should steer readers away. Miller and Campbell assume a little too much. This book would best suit a preaching 2 course rather than an introductory class. More structure is often needed when learning to preach. Also, the authors assume that several drafts are possible when writing a manuscript. This may be possible, but preachers out not feel bad if they cannot. The important thing is using the time one does have as faithfully as possible.
This mediocre review does not live up to the praise this book deserves. This is without doubt one of the most helpful book I have read this year. I agree with and echo D.A. Carson’s comments, “If I could I would make this little book mandatory reading for seminarians everywhere.” Amen, Dr. Carson! Buy it, read it, give it away, and then read it again!