The Revd Chris Green writes:
THE Revd Dr Mike Ovey, Principal of Oak Hill College, died suddenly on 7 January, aged 58. He was a pioneering theological educator and an architect of contemporary global Anglican Evangelicalism.
Michael John Ovey was born in December 1958 on the Isle of Wight, although he usually flashed his Cornish and Jewish roots. He went to school in Southampton, where he was converted. He read law at Oxford, and, in 1982, started work as a Parliamentary legislative draftsman. He remained a keen supporter of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, wrote on public theology, and drafted substantial briefing notes for members of both Houses of Parliament.
Mike left the law to train for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. It was a hard process for him, and those who knew him saw that his keen mind was tied to a tender pastoral heart. He was ordained in 1991 and served at All Saints’, Crowborough, in East Sussex.
In 1995, after a happy curacy with Andrew Cornes, he and his young family — he married Heather in 1987 — moved to Moore College, Sydney, where Mike became a junior lecturer in doctrine and worked on his M.Th., “Truth in John’s Gospel”. This experience was seminal for him. He came under the influence of his life-long mentor, the college Principal, later Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen; and Sydney remained close to Mike’s heart.
Mike joined Oak Hill in 1998, initially part-time while completing his Ph.D. on “The eternal relation between the Father and the Son and its handling by selected patristic theologians, with particular reference to John’s Gospel”. That combined two of his theological passions: robust exegesis, particularly in St John, and Patristics, principally St Augustine and St Hilary of Poitiers. That focus broadened as he taught. He became a sensitive reader of Reformed theology, and an acute historian of thought.
A deeply convictional Anglican, committed to wider Evangelical unity, he was a piercing contributor to many of our pressing questions. He taught repeatedly that Christian knowledge of God was stewardship: the Triune God was the Creator, we were his creatures, and, if God, who could not lie, had revealed himself in scriptures, then that necessarily constrained our thought. Theological truth and humility mattered to Mike.
He also played, laughed, and loved. At faculty socials he would give readings from the Australian classic The Man from Snowy River, or P. G. Wodehouse; taxing doctrine exams would be masked in the escapades of “Reginald Twittering, the ever-popular but undeniably feckless curate of St Ethelwine-without-the-midden”, and Reggie’s patient diocesan, Bishop Anselm.
Students might tease Mike about his devotion to Arsenal, and the dodgy accents that he gave to quotations from the Fathers, or joke that his legal career had happened only because he misspelt “barista” on his university application form (Mike loved his coffee); but that affection reflected many hours of kindness which he poured into student lives — frequently postponing other meetings, to his colleagues’ frustration.
Mike became Principal of Oak Hill in 2007. He advocated theological and educational coherence, and took the college through numerous inspections to high acclaim, and with a strong sense of unity across the staff.
His concern was never academia for itself, but for churches and evangelism in the fast-changing UK, with properly trained pastor-teachers as essential to the task. He devoted himself to it. There are church-plants in some of the toughest parts of Britain because of his drive to connect profound orthodoxy with today’s fragmented culture.
In the past decade, Mike emerged internationally. A member of GAFCON’s Theological Commission, he spoke in both Jerusalem (2008) and Nairobi (2013). His 2013 address, “The Grace of God or the World of the West?”, brought him global recognition.
Besides numerous papers and monographs, Mike co-wrote Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution (2007) and Confident: Why we can trust the Bible (2015) for IVP, and wrote Your Will Be Done: Exploring eternal subordination, divine monarchy and divine humility (Latimer, 2016).
Many will regret what stayed unwritten, but, as he once said of Archbishop Jensen, “his students are his books.” His influence on a rising generation of Evangelical ministers, Anglican and independent, around the world is enormous.
I shall miss an intelligent, cultured, witty, loyal, and sacrificial friend and brother, whom I have known for some 35 years. He is survived by his wife, their three children, Charlie, Harry, and Ana, his parents, and two sisters.
The funeral is at Enfield Evangelical Free Church on 23 January at 1 p.m. Details: www.oakhill.ac.uk