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Lee Gatiss and Mike Ovey at the Church Society conference in June 2016

A Tribute to Mike Ovey (1958-2017)

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 8 Jan 2017

Lee Gatiss looks at the life and work of Mike Ovey, former Principal of Oak Hill College, who died at the weekend.

It was with great sadness that I learned of the sudden and unexpected death of Mike Ovey on Saturday evening. I was privileged to know Mike for about 20 years, and he was greatly respected as a member of the Church Society council and as Chairman of the Churchman editorial board. Personal tributes and testimonies to his impact on a generation of theological students and ministers have been springing up all over social media. He has gone to be with Christ, which is better by far, after a life spent fruitfully in his service.

Michael John Ovey was born in December 1958. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford, finally graduating with a Bachelor of Civil Law degree in 1982 before going on to work as a parliamentary draftsman in the civil service, helping to write government legislation. In 1987 he married Heather, and shortly afterwards left the life of a lawyer to train for ministry in the Church of England at Ridley Hall in Cambridge (1988-1991). He and Heather subsequently had three children together: Charlie, Harry, and Anastasia. Our hearts and prayers go out for them as they grieve his untimely loss.

He was ordained in 1991 and served for 4 years as curate of All Saints, Crowborough in Chichester diocese. He and Heather then left to move to Sydney Australia, as Mike took up a post as Junior Lecturer at Moore Theological College. While there he also did research for an MTh, with a dissertation on the concept of truth in John’s Gospel, and made many friends.

I first met Mike in 1998 when he returned to the UK to be a research fellow at Oak Hill Theological College in London. Some of his lectures were quite stretching (such as this one, and this one which he contributed to The Theologian journal), and I never understood his compulsive need to talk about Arsenal football club and include diagrams or witty quotes in all of his handouts! But he was a good friend and a mentor. We met up weekly to read the Bible and pray together during a year when I was doing MPhil research in the Old Testament, and we’d occasionally pore over the Septuagint or a Latin Church Father, or he’d advise me about college committees he had gotten me involved with. Always with at least one cup of coffee (and occasionally with a glass of something different).

Mike’s PhD from Kings College, London (completed in 2004) was on the eternal relation between God the Father and God the Son in selected patristic theologians and John’s Gospel, which highlights his interest in integrating systematic, historical, and biblical theology. Much of this work made it into his most recent publication Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility. He was keen to encourage Christians to engage more carefully in systematic theology, which he saw as something of a weakness in evangelical circles. In a helpful talk from 2006, for example, he examined the biblical foundations of systematics and outlined a biblical method of engaging in it, which many found persuasive.

In 2007, Mike took over from Professor David Peterson as Principal of Oak Hill and also published his first major book, a defence of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement called Pierced for our Transgressions (with Andrew Sach and Steve Jeffery). In this area, he also wrote an article for Churchman in 2010 on the appropriation of Christus Victor models of the atonement. More recently he made contributions in the area of public theology, and with a popular level book with Daniel Strange, Confident: Why we can trust the Bible.

As well as a college principal, Mike was also an active churchman, and contributed in particular to the Church of England’s recent debates over women’s ordination and consecration as bishops. His 1993 Churchman article on the ordination of women was just the first of several well-argued pieces from the conservative side of those debates. He made a significant contribution to the Rochester Commission exploring the theology and implications of allowing women to be bishops, and wrote an article on apostolic authority as well as one on “ecclesiastical tyranny.” After the rejection of the legislation to allow women bishops in 2012, I asked Mike to be our Church Society representative on the committee which attempted then to find a new way forward (on which he reported in our magazine, Crossway some time later). His theological and legal expertise were put to very good use on behalf of conservative evangelicals throughout the church.

Mike’s writing for the Cambridge Papers and in Themelios was always stimulating. His remarkable keynote address to 1300 delegates from 38 nations at the GAFCON conference in Nairobi in 2013, “The Grace of God or the World of the West?” was very widely appreciated.

He had thought a great deal about the doctrine of repentance in recent years, and we mentioned one of his helpful sermons on the subject on our blog some time ago. But he was most eloquent on this subject only a few months ago, at our annual conference in June 2016, when he spoke to us about the major challenges in the Church of England today, and gave us his prescription for how we can remain clear and steadfast in the face of them. That talk may now stand as his final word on (and to) the Church of our day — it is well worth listening to, carefully and prayerfully.

Mike was looking forward to a sabbatical this year, to time off from his onerous responsibilities and to finishing off an article for Churchman and a chapter for a Church Society book amongst other things during that time. But he is now enjoying a far greater sabbath rest, of which the author to the Hebrews spoke: “There remains a sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9-1) By God’s grace alone, in which he as a sinner always rejoiced, he rests in peace and will rise in glory.

Please join me in praying for Heather and the family, for his many friends, and for the Oak Hill community — as they grieve, but with faithful hope, for Mike.

Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society.

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