Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: Saving Eutychus

This is a very unique and memorable book. If you can't quite place the name in the title, perhaps the full title and subtitle will help: 'Saving Eutychus - How to preach God's word and keep people awake.' Eutychus is, of course, the young man who fell asleep while Paul was preaching through the night and fell out of the window down to the ground and died - but whom Paul raised to life. If you haven't got the raising to life ability of Paul, then the authors Gary Millar and Phil Campbell want to help you preach and keep people awake!

The book alternates between the two authors, one a Northern Irish man (Millar), the other an Aussie (Campbell), each with a passion for God's glory in and through preaching. This is the focus and drive of the whole book - because, as they remind the reader early on, it's not about you. 'Saving Eutychus doesn't just mean keeping him awake. It also means doing our best to keep him fresh and alert so he can hear the truth of the gospel and be saved.'

The first requirement, therefore, is prayer - dependence on God to be working by his grace. In this first chapter there is a helpful, gentle rebuke of those who only depend on disconnected sermon podcasts being piped through the air rather than the up close and personal involvement of the local church where the pastor knows and is known, and prayer comes more naturally. There is a double challenge - to the preacher himself to be praying for his preaching, but also for the congregation to be praying together for the preaching (rather than, as can sometimes happen, other needs are crowded in and the preaching forgotten).

Chapter 2 focuses in on preaching that changes the heart, when the sermon seems to be exactly what is needed, whether or not the preacher realises. It's not manipulative, not wily, but a heaven-guided missile to the heart. The appeal is for expository preaching as the best way to communicate the Bible: 'expository preaching happens when the vibe of the passage = the vibe of the sermon.' There follows some examples of how this can happen and what it might look like.

Campbell writes chapter 3 in preacher's confessional mode, in the chapter entitled Deadly, Dull and Boring. He reflects on his early preaching, in the form of essay writing and delivering, and wondering why it didn't connect with people. He charts the changes he made, through natural scripting; more repetition of the main idea; and the use of 'improper' English which is how we naturally speak. Campbell gives his top ten tips for being clearer - some of which the preacher will already do, but some of which he can take on board.

What's the big idea is the theme of chapter 4, urging the preacher to spend lots of time working out what the main idea of the passage is, and then communicating that through the course of the sermon. We get a glimpse into the way Campbell preps his sermons - writing out the passage, using various colours and columns to work out where the big idea is contained. We also see how he begins to work through application - in the light of the gospel, what the passage is really saying, and unflinchingly.

Chapter 5 explores the reasons why preaching the gospel is so hard (especially from the Old Testament). Millar guides us through some hermeneutics to help us see that the Old Testament was written for us, and how to work on it. He gives some very helpful advice on finding a route to the gospel, through one of any number of key themes being worked out through the Bible, including creation, fall, covenant and promise, temple, sonship, exodus, messiah, resurrection and so on. Very helpful for those struggling to understand how the Old Testament is still relevant, and for the preacher to refresh on how to explain and apply it.

The sixth chapter is entitled Stand and Deliver, on the delivery of sermons. It's full of practical wisdom, including the helpful 'delivery sphere' of volume, pace and pitch. It may be that my preaching can sometimes be too settled, needing more variety - so this is something I'll return to and try to work on. As Campbell comments: 'It's all about owning your words - using the words you've prepared to communicate the big idea of your passage in a way that moves people towards faith and obedience.

Chapter 7 looks at sermon critique through peer review and pew review. Some good tips here.

The end of the book consists of a sample sermon by each author, critiqued by the other author. It was a useful way of seeing how the sermon feedback sheet could be used, even if they were perhaps very nice about each others' sermons!

The whole book is a joy to read, with lots of good advice and exhortation from those who have been long in the work of preaching and are employed in the training of other preachers. Their humour shines through; these are no ivory tower professors, but are real life preachers seeking to glorify God by encouraging change in their hearers. If you're a preacher, or wanting to be a preacher, this is a great book to read. You will certainly benefit from it.

Saving Eutychus is available from Amazonand for Kindle.

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