My formal obituary of Mike Ovey has been published in the Church Times, but behind a paywall. So it is here as well.
Revd. Dr. Michael J. Ovey, PhD MTh MA BCL BA, Principal at Oak Hill College
Mike Ovey, who died suddenly on January 7th aged 58, was a pioneering theological educator, and an architect of global Anglican Evangelicalism.
Michael John Ovey was born in December 1958 on the Isle of Wight, although he usually flashed his Cornish, Jewish roots, and went to school in Southampton, where he was converted. He read Law at Oxford, and in 1982 began as a Parliamentary legislative draftsman. He remained a keen supporter of the Lawyer’s Christian Fellowship, wrote on public theology, and drafted substantial briefing notes for members of both Houses of Parliament.
In 1987 he married Heather, and they have three children: Charlie, Harry and Ana.
Mike left the law to train for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, which 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 to serve at All Saints, Crowborough.
In 1995, after a happy curacy with Andrew Cornes, the young family moved to Moore College, Sydney, with Mike as a junior lecturer in doctrine, and working on his MTh: Truth in John’s Gospel. This was seminal, both in experiencing doctrinally deep theological education, and coming under the influence of his life-long mentor, the Principal, and later Archbishop, Dr Peter Jensen. It is hard to exaggerate the influence the older man had on the younger, and Sydney remained close to Mike’s heart.
Mike joined Oak Hill in 1998, initially part-time while completing his PhD 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 John, and Patristics, principally Augustine and Hilary. That focus broadened as he taught, becoming a sensitive reader of Reformed theology, and an acute historian of thought. He was both a deeply convictional Anglican and committed to wider Evangelical unity, and a piercing contributor to many of our pressing questions. He taught repeatedly that Christian knowledge of God is stewardship: the Triune God is the Creator, we are his Creatures, and if God, who cannot lie, has revealed himself in Scriptures, then that necessarily constrains our thought. Theological truth and humility mattered to Mike.
This formidable intellect also played, laughed and loved. Faculty socials enjoyed readings of the Australian classic ‘The Man from Snowy River’, or from 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’s devotion to Arsenal, the dodgy accents he gave to quotations from the Fathers, or joke that his legal career only happened because he misspelt ‘barista’ on his University application form (Mike loved his coffee), but that affection reflected many hours of kindness he poured into student lives – frequently postponing other meetings, to the frustration of his colleagues.
He was Dean, and became Principal in 2007, advocating theological and educational coherence, and taking Oak Hill 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, and he devoted himself to it. There are church plants in some of the toughest parts of Britain, because of Mike’s drive to connect profound orthodoxy with the fragmented cultures of our day.
The last decade saw Mike emerge internationally. A member of GAFCON’s Theological Commission, he spoke in both Jerusalem (2008) and Nairobi (2013), and his 2013 address ‘The Grace of God or the World of the West?’ brought global recognition.
In addition to numerous papers and monographs, Mike co-authored ‘Pierced for our transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution’ (Leicester: IVP, 2007); ‘Confident: Why we can trust the Bible (Nottingham: IVP, 2015); and wrote, ‘Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility’ (London: Latimer, 2016). Many will regret what stayed unwritten, but as he once said of Peter Jensen, ‘his students are his books.’ With his influence on a rising generation of evangelical ministers, Anglican and independent, in the UK and around the world, Mike may prove the most-read Anglican theologian of our day, and many days to come. Personally, I shall miss an intelligent, cultured, witty, loyal, sacrificial friend and brother, whom I have known for some thirty-five years.
Mike is survived by his wife Heather, his children Charlie, Harry, and Ana, both his parents, and two sisters. We should pray for them.