A Tribute to Mike Ovey
We were shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Mike Ovey, Principal of Oak Hill College, last Saturday. John Stevens explains how Mike’s ministry has influenced so many of us.
Some of us have known Mike as a friend for many years. All of us have hugely appreciated his gospel partnership with us as a family of churches. Although Mike was an ordained Anglican, he and his family attended Enfield Evangelical Free Church, an FIEC church in North London, so they were very familiar with the work of FIEC.
Our hearts and prayers go out to Mike’s wife Heather, and their three children, Charlie, Harry and Ana, and also to the faculty, staff and students of Oak Hill, and to the church family at EEFC.
Many moving tributes have already been written about Mike and his life and ministry, and I won’t repeat what has already been said. However I want to pay tribute to Mike specifically from an FIEC perspective, as we give thanks to God for him and all that he has meant to us. The wider work of FIEC and its churches has been blessed in numerous ways by the vision and faithfulness of Mike, whether through his writing or his leadership at Oak Hill.
Three things stand out for me about Mike and his ministry, for which we are greatly thankful to God.
1. Mike’s faithfulness to the gospel
Mike’s life and ministry were marked by an unwavering commitment to the truth of the apostolic gospel, and to the core doctrines that have been the historic hallmark of evangelicalism. In an era in which theological liberalism was rife, and increasingly adopted by self-professed evangelicals, Mike contended vigorously for the truth, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures, and for the crucial importance of penal substitutionary atonement. These are the core doctrines that define FIEC, and we hugely appreciated not just his defence of them, but his positive advocacy of them as essential to true Christian faith.
He was co-author of Pierced for Our Transgressions, a vital riposte to those who were dismissing the idea that Christ died to bear the wrath of God in our place as something akin to divine child abuse. His work was rooted in Scripture, reflected a deep grasp of the history of the church, and was contextualised to address the challenges of contemporary culture. Many FIEC pastors were helped by Mike to preach the cross of Christ more confidently and compellingly, and for this we are deeply thankful.
2. Mike’s commitment to theology and theological education
Another aspect of Mike’s life and ministry that we hugely appreciated was his commitment to theology and the necessity of theological education for local church ministry.
Whilst the FIEC constituency has often been suspicious of formal theological education (which is unsurprising given the way in which liberalism captured the non-conformist colleges in the twentieth century) this does not mean that it has been suspicious of theology itself. FIEC pastors and churches have tended to highly value the importance of theology in the Christian life and ministry, and to hold a high regard for the Puritan tradition and the Reformation Confessions. Their lack of trust in theological colleges meant that for several generations they were forced to be autodidacts, or to train exclusively through local church mentoring.
Mike was convinced of the vital importance of theology, and perhaps especially systematic theology, as an essential tool for Christian ministry. It is impossible to be a faithful expository preacher without an adequate grasp of systematic theology, which is vital to the accurate interpretation of any individual Bible passage. Mike championed the cause of good theology in an evangelical culture which sometimes tacitly assumed its importance but gave greater attention to other disciplines. Mike’s holistic approach resonated with the FIEC constituency, and through his leadership at Oak Hill College he demonstrated that it was possible for thoroughly orthodox theology to be taught in a formal theological institution.
One of the results of this has been that a far greater number of FIEC pastors are now preparing for ministry by means of a formal theological training than was the case in previous generations. As a result they will be better equipped to preach and teach the Bible, and to meet the challenges of the contemporary culture.
3. Mike’s gospel generosity
We are especially thankful for Mike’s gospel generosity and his willingness to develop a meaningful and mutually beneficial partnership with FIEC. Under Mike’s leadership, building on the work of his predecessor David Petersen, Oak Hill has been transformed from an Anglican training college that attracted some Independent students, to a multi-denominational college that is training both Anglican and Independent students together.
Over the past six years, Mike sought to build a genuine partnership with us, and to ensure that the specific needs of Independent students are met by the college. This has been evident in faculty appointments, especially the appointment of Graham Beynon to be Director of Independent Ministry, and the introduction of courses that teach Independent ecclesiology and church leadership. It has been a privilege to partner with Oak Hill to enable the appointment of David Shaw as part-time FIEC Theological Adviser.
As a result of Mike’s vision and generosity, more and more FIEC pastors are choosing to train at Oak Hill, many supported by grants from the FIEC Training Fund. There are now Oak Hill graduates serving as FIEC Directors, as members of the FIEC Trust Board, and as pastors and assistant pastors in local churches around the country. Many of them look back to Mike’s inspirational teaching with gratitude, and the legacy of his life’s work continues in their preaching and ministries.
So we are truly thankful to God for Mike, who was undoubtedly a “good and faithful servant”, and we resolve to maintain his legacy of unflinching gospel faithfulness, commitment to theological training, and generous partnership in the gospel.