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Summary of "Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God's Word and Keep People Awake"

Phil Campbell and Gary Millar’s book, Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake aims to “help us all to preach in a way that is faithful to Scripture without being dull. Some of the steps we need to take to achieve this or spiritual, some are technical, and some are theological” (26). In the following review, I give a brief summary of each chapter along with supporting quotations before giving strengths and weaknesses of this work. While there were certain aspects of this book that I would quibble with (sermons with slide and videos, and very short sermons), I greatly appreciated how immensely practical Campbell and Millar were in this work. I would highly recommend it to anyone who preaches or teaches God’s Word.

Chapter Summaries

An Aussie and an Irishman walk into a pulpit… (about the authors)

“Our prayer is that this book will equip and encourage you to preach the word of God in a way that fits your own personality and his faithful Anne fresh in your own context.” 9

Saving Eutychus (Introduction)

“Our challenge is not just to avoid being deadly dull. Our challenge is also to be faithful, accurate and clear as we cut to the heart of the biblical text and apply what God is really saying in a way that cuts to the hearts of people who are really listening.” 14

Chapter 1 - Saving Eutychus 101: it’s not about you

Summary: The preacher, not possessing any power in and of himself, must remember that “God uses weak and sinful people” and thus be dependent on God in prayer.

“Preaching and praying go together.” 24

Chapter 2 - Preaching that changes the heart

Summary: Expository preaching “uncages the lion” of God’s Word and allows God to speak to the human heart.

“I want everyone to be bowled over by the power and beauty of God. I want people (myself included) to become more like Christ. To borrow Edwards’s language, I want people to be ‘affected.’ I want to preach in a way that results in change. Real change. Heart change.” 27

“The key to preaching, then, is to make the message of the text obvious. Help people to see it and feel it. Help people to understand the text … I am utterly convinced that the kind of preaching that changes people’s lives, that changes people’s hearts, is preaching that allows the text to speak … 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.” 29-31

“When we preach the gospel, we are not simply telling people how to be good or leaving them to wallow in the overwhelming sense that they are irredeemably bad.” 41

Chapter 3 - Deadly, dull, and boring

Summary: Speak clearly, simply, and naturally.

“If you master the art of natural scripting—writing exactly the words you’d naturally speak, exactly the way you’d naturally say them—then you can eliminate the downsides of scripted public speaking.” 45

“I want to push you to prepare in a way that combines your heartfelt passion with hardheaded clarity, in a package that’s well planned, conversational and clear … and not too long.” 50

“To make easy things seem hard is easy, but to make hard things easy is the office of a great preacher.” (George Whitefield; 49)

10 practical tips for being clearer (The most helpful part of this book)

1. The more you say, the less people will remember. 50

2. Make the ‘big idea’ shape everything you say. 51

3. Choose the shortest, most ordinary words you can. 52

4. Use shorter sentences (average sentence length should be between 17 and 20 words). 53

5. Forget everything your English teacher taught you. 54

i. “Get rid of ‘thats’ and ‘whiches.’”

6. Repeat yourself (strategically). 56

7. Translate narratives into the present tense. 58

8. The $6 million secret of illustrating: “illustrate the obvious, and the complex ideas will take care of themselves, because your listeners will be fresh and focused enough to stay with you.” 58-59 (not sure I agree here)

9. People love to hear about people. “Populate your preaching with real people.” 59

10. Work towards your key text. “Lead your listeners towards the text. Instead of quoting it then explaining it, do the reverse. Explain and then show … let the words of scripture close the deal.” 60

Chapter 4 - So what’s the big deal?

Summary: Determine the big idea of the text, summarize this idea in one sentence, and let this big idea drive everything else. This is an essential and critical first step toward preparing a sermon.

“It’s easier for your listeners to catch a baseball [the big idea] than a handful of sand.” 64

“The big idea of a passage most often emerges when you spot the repetitions in the text and follow the chain of logic between them.” 67

Chapter 5 - Why preaching the gospel is so hard (especially from the Old Testament)

Summary: Preaching that is shaped by biblical theology will connect themes that run through Scripture and will help the preacher avoid the dangers of both legalism and license.

“Paul says that these things happened to them but were written for us. In that one simple sentence, I think we can find the hermeneutical key to preaching Christ affectively, hopefully, and in a way that makes people gasp.” 80

Chapter 6 - Stand and deliver

Summary: Heartfelt passion around the big idea of the text will enable the preacher to deliver God’s Word with the unction necessary to move others to faith and obedience. 110

“A lot depends on your heart—are you passionate, excited by the gospel, enthused by your passage, and in love with the church the Lord Jesus has put under your care? If you’re just going through the motions It will show.” 101

“It’s 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.” 110

Chapter 7 - Faithful wounds and the importance of critique

Summary: One of the most valuable helps that preacher’s need is “loving, godly, perceptive criticism.” 111

Chapter 8 - Let’s build a sermon: Phil walks through the process of writing last Sunday sermon

Summary: Phil talks through his thought process to craft his latest sermon on Acts 8.

Critical Review

The greatest strength of this book is how immensely practical it is.

Interesting: “Old-fashioned handwriting activates a different set of brain pathways, slows me down, and helps me see and digest the text up close, one thought at a time.” 66

Helpful list of what preachers could get wrong: “getting the big idea wrong/not preaching the passage; self-indulgence; not preaching the gospel; not preaching the gospel to people’s hearts; insensitivity; trying to be too clever.” 113-116

Talk to your wife (or somebody) about the creative process of how you crafted the sermon. This will help you distill the most important parts of what you will preach. 118

Practical helps on the application aspect of a sermon.

Practical helps on “unflinching application”: “Bryan Chapell’s words, ‘Say exactly what you mean exactly as you’d say it to a loved one’. Gently.” 73

“Be direct. ‘If you are on the verge of an affair with that girl who understands you at the office, don’t do it!’ Carries much more punch than the vague, “do we sometimes struggle with sexual temptation?” 74

“The application comes at the end of your research, but it comes first as you design and build your sermon.” 74


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