2016 was the year of sudden and unexpected celebrity deaths: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, George Michael, to name but a few. But please would you permit me to speak about one name that will not make the celebrity list or evening news?
On the first Saturday in January Mike Ovey died suddenly and without warning. He was just 58, married with 3 children in their late teens and twenties, but most significantly for me, he was the Principal of Oak Hill Theological College in north London, the college where I trained for ministry.
He taught me systematic theology (or Christian doctrine of which frankly I knew nothing) and apologetics, and it is an understatement to say his death has been an terrible shock both to me and to the wider evangelical world.
Tributes have been led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and our own Bishop of Chichester. But one of the best has been posted on The Gospel Coalition website and reveals the scale of the loss and the measure of the man:
“For the past two decades Mike valiantly upheld three pillars on which British evangelicalism rests.
First, to hear Mike was to guarantee a lecture on the Creator-creature distinction. Students laughed and teased him because everything somehow, in some way, tied back to this distinction and he laughed with them, but underneath the laugh was a conviction: Unless church leaders understood the significance of the Creator-creature distinction, they would embrace liberalism’s man-centered starting point. And this, Mike would tell you, is the beginning of the end of Christianity.
Secondly, before Mike became principal at Oak Hill he was a humble tutor in doctrine and insisted on lecturing in doctrine throughout his term as principal despite countless other pressing demands on his desk.
Why? Because unlike so many well-intentioned evangelicals (including me!), he knew that doctrine was the very artery of the church; and if severed the church would bleed to death. He stopped this bleeding on many occasions. He refused to compromise a biblical view of gender when church leaders believed it didn’t matter; and he defended penal substitutionary atonement when many churches became allergic to the idea divine wrath and judgment.
Lastly, he fearlessly took on the agenda of a secular culture with the gospel, and exemplified what a public theology might look like.”
In the 8 years or so since I left Oak Hill, I have found that he invariably had something clear, wise, faithful and articulate to say on almost any issue in the news. In this year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we have lost a 21st century reformer —“a reformer with a towering intellect and an unflinching conviction for the truth.” Mike Ovey1958-2017.
With best wishes and a Happy New Year,