Saving Eutychus

Poor Eutychus. He had an opportunity and privilege we’ve all wished for at one time or another: an evening with the world’s foremost theologian. But it didn’t go exactly the way he had imagined (or, to be fair, how the theologian had imagined). Eutychus perched himself in the coolest part of the room–right up there in the window–and listened as this man preached about Jesus Christ. And preached. And preached some more. The evening turned to night. His eyes got heavy. He drifted to sleep. He slipped right out of that window. The next thing he knew he was all dead and it was only some well-timed apostolic first aid that let him see the sunrise.

Of course we’ve all wished death upon ourselves somewhere in the second hour of a particularly disjointed and interminable sermon. The occasional bad sermon is an inevitability to all of us who attend church week after week. The occasional dud is equally inevitable to those of us called to preach. Gary Millar and Phil Campbell are concerned with boring preaching, or just plain bad preaching, and to war against it they teamed up to write Saving Eutychus. An Aussie and an Irishman, each lifelong preachers, they have written book on preaching that is uniquely practical and uniquely quirky. It’s a great combination.

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While they position the book as an antidote to boring and ineffective sermons, it is actually far more positive than defensive in its tone. Their great desire is to equip men for the kind of preaching that changes the heart. They say,

We all know good preaching when we hear it. We may not be able to explain why it is so good. We may not know why the sermon enthralled and challenged us this Sunday, or why this time last week we were counting the bricks in the wall behind the pulpit. But we know there is a difference, and all of us can feel that difference.

I hope you’ve heard the Bible taught in such a way that you simply could not miss the fact that God was in the room addressing his people through his word. I hope you’ve felt that strange combination of fear and comfort as you suspect that the preacher wrote the sermon just for you (and as you wonder whether the speaker has been secretly interviewing your parents, spouse, children, workmates and neighbors again). That’s the kind of preaching that changes the heart…

Indeed. We may not be able to easily define that kind of preaching, but we can all remember occasions when we have experienced it, whether we were in the pews or the pulpit at the time. And whether we deliver a sermon or hear a sermon, this is our desire, to experience preaching that changes us from the inside out. But how do we do that? What are the characteristics of this preaching?

Saving Eutychus offers powerful insights into the very nature of preaching and combines these with very practical tips and pointers. Helpfully, the authors keep careful boundaries between what must be true of preaching and the specifics of their own habits and patterns. Because much of what they teach about the nature of preaching is downstream from other books on the subject, it is the tips and pointers that set this book apart. Millar and Campbell allow the reader to see exactly how they prepare their sermons, how they ensure that these are sermons and not essays, how they work on their delivery and even how they solicit and process feedback.

Speaking personally, the parts I found most helpful were the discussions of the earliest parts of sermon preparation, including the role of prayer and the usefulness of transcribing the passage by hand. The section on delivery and the roles of pitch, pace and volume was also extremely useful. I read the book just a day before beginning a future sermon series and have found many areas of immediate application.

D.A. Carson, a man who knows far more about preaching than I ever will, describes Saving Eutychus a “must” and says that if he could he would make it mandatory reading for seminarians; he would also force them read it a couple of times during the course of their ministry. Alistair Begg also puts it in the “must read” category and compares it with the classic works by John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  This is high praise, but praise that is well-deserved. It is an excellent book and one any preacher or public speaker would do well to read.

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