Ovey, Michael J. The Feasts of Repentance: From Luke-Acts to Systematic and Pastoral Theology. NSBT 49; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 173 pp. Pb; $25. Link to IVP Academic
Michael J. Ovey (1958–2017) served as the principal of Oak Hill College, London, from 2007 until his death. He delivered an early version of this book at the annual Moore Theological College lectures and continued editing the book until his sudden death in 2017.
Ovey argues repentance is a critical element of the proclamation of the gospel, and it is too often overlooked in modern preaching. His theological context is global Anglicanism, but a lack of emphasis on repentance is certainly true for most forms of Christianity. He cites N. T. Wright, who defines the Gospel as the proclamation of Jesus as Lord. This stands in contrast to John Calvin, who held the sum of the gospel comprises repentance and forgiveness of sin (2). More than this, how does repentance work for post-conversion Christian life? For many, an emphasis on living a repentant life leads to a joyless, guilt-ridden Christian life.
This book moves from a biblical theology of repentance (as demonstrated in Like-Acts) to systematic theology (is repentance a necessary component of salvation?) to pastoral theology (is repentance a necessary component of the Christian life?) For Ovey, repentance is a formal necessity and not a “optional extra.”
The biblical theology section (chs. 2-3) examines the preaching of John the Baptist, followed by several examples of Jesus’s feasting with sinners (hence the title of the book). He briefly touches on the repentant thief and the important summary of the gospel and conclusion to the book of Luke in 24:46-48. Luke includes “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” at the heart of Jesus’s post resurrection instruction on what the scriptures said. Repentance is clear in apostolic preaching to both Jews and Gentiles and Paul’s understanding of his own mission. Luke universalizes repentance. Everyone needs to repent of sin before receiving forgiveness.
Chapters 4-6 move into systematic theology. What is the relationship between faith and repentance in the ordo salutus (order of salvation)? For Ovey, if a call to faith omits repentance, it is a defective faith (130). “Repentance, apart from anything else, is needed to Orient us in relationship to the claims of Christ” (130). In Acts especially, Paul calls on gentiles to repent specifically from the sin of idolatry. Ovey defines idolatry “as a perversion or distortion of the relation that exists between creature and creator” (75). Idolatry is a parody of the real relationship humans ought to have with God. In fact, Ovey suggests idolatry is not just one sin among many, but rather it is the sin.
Chapter 7 moves to pastoral theology. If the biblical material universalizes repentance and systematic theology shows it is necessary for genuine faith, what about the unrepentant? Here, he examines two examples from Luke’s gospel. First, the Pharisees are self-righteous and prideful, both in their relationship to God and to each other. They simply do not need to repent. But Jesus sometimes refers to them as hypocrites. A hypocrite knows the truth but is self-deceived. Still, there is no need for repentance. The repentant, on the other hand, demonstrate humility toward God and that leads to repentance. Ovey uses the contrast between the two sons in Luke 15. He draws a connection between forgiveness and justice. There is an obligation for those who repent to show mercy towards those who have not yet repented (Luk6 6:36; 11:4; 17:3-4). Ovey points out how countercultural this is in a (modern) rights-based culture (154). We want our rights vindicated! An obligation to forgive involves a preparedness and willingness to forgive others and demands we forego what we deserve.
Conclusion. Ovey is correct. There is a lack of interest in repentance in modern preaching. Ovey is not interested in this book on the cultural factors, and he is writing from a different perspective than mine. Although it is certainly true modern evangelicals have trouble identifying their own sin and need for repentance, they seem to have little trouble in identifying when other people need to repent! Ovey’s description of the Pharisees is appropriate here. This book is therefore a valuable contribution to an overlooked yet important theological and biblical teaching of Scripture.
NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.