An Aussie and an Irish Man Walk into the Pulpit. . . .a book review

It sounds like it is a joke but it is not. Gary Millar (Irishman) and Phil Campbell (Aussie) have teamed up to write a book that helps preachers preach God’s word and keep people  awake. Both men teach at Queensland Theological College in Brisbane.  Their book, Saving Eutychusdraws its title from the Eutychus who fell asleep while the apostle Paul preached in Acts 20 (making him the patron saint of all who doze through church). Unfortunately for Eutychus, when he fell asleep he also fell three stories to his death. Paul raised him back to life and kept preaching. However in an age with less powerful preachers, we need to learn how to preach in a way that keeps people awake and engaged.

While the Biblical allusion to Eutychus is humorous, Millar and Campbell offer some seriously helpful advice. While many books focus on ‘preaching technique’ when trying to help preachers craft an interest presentation, Millar and Campbell are also interested in the gospel content of sermons. It isn’t enough to entertain, they want preachers to preach in such a way that  listeners have a change of heart.

The two authors embody this dual emphasis of this text. Millar’s chapters generally focus on the theological content of the sermon, Campbell’s chapters generally offer practical advice for crafting interesting sermons and having a winsome delivery; however both authors see the value of preaching content and craft and they reinforce and reiterate what the other says.  Millar talks about the power of prayer in preaching (chapter 1),  preaching that aims at heart change (chapter 2),  how to preach the gospel in difficult passages by setting them in the context of a Biblical theology (chapter 5), and the importance of listening to peer critiques of your sermons (chapter 7). Campbell  exhorts preachers to be clearer and simpler in their presentation (chapter 3), to craft their sermons around the ‘big idea’ in the passage (chapter 4),  and to vary their pitch, pace and volume in presentation (chapter 6). In chapter eight, Campbell shares a sample sermon (which Millar critiques in an appendix and offers a sermon of his own).

I am an occasional preacher, but I resonate with these author’s expository style.  What I liked about this book is that Millar and Campbell begin with an emphasis on the importance of prayer for the preaching moment (both the prayers from preachers and from congregants). Their focus on the gospel and  the gospel content of preaching guards against preachers being too caviler when they climb into the pulpit. After reflecting on various mistakes preachers make (i.e. self-indulgence, not preaching the gospel, insensitivity, trying to be clever, etc.), Millar observes:

We need to remember that all these ‘mistakes’ are sin. There is a sad irony  in the fact that many of us who are quick to say (and preach) with JC Ryle that the right “understanding of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity”, are also very slow to acknowledge that our preaching  ‘gaffes’ are actually deeply sinful. To miss the point of a passage because we have decided what we want to say is more important than whatGod has to say is sinful. To abuse the privilage of preaching by talking about ourselves or by trying to make ourselves seem witty or ‘in’ or ‘hip’ is just plain sinful. (115-6)

The seriousness by which Millar and Campbell view the preaching task keeps a book designed ‘to help keep people awake’ from devolving into mere technique.  Certainly they have some great advice on proper communication, but this is secondary importance to the gospel of Grace.

For a short preaching book, this is rather good. There is little ‘new material’ here but I like what Millar and Campbell have culled together. I give this book four-and-a-half stars.

Thank you to matthias media and Cross-Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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