Restoring the rightful place of repentance

From Luke-Acts to systematic and pastoral
By Michael J. Ovey
IVP Apollos. 173 pages. £14.99
ISBN 978 1 783 598 960

Repentance is too often a missing topic in evangelicalism today. Mike Ovey wrote this book (almost finalised by the time of his tragic and unexpected death in 2017) out of a deep concern that repentance is ‘far too often ignored, minimalised or dismissed’ in our evangelism.

The gospel is more than simply the proclamation that Jesus is Lord (as proponents of the New Perspective(s) insist). The gospel call necessarily includes a clear call to genuine repentance. This is, therefore, a much-needed book for the church today.

Ovey examines repentance through a detailed study of Luke’s Gospel and Acts. In the first part of the work, he studies repentance in the context of the various feasts that Luke records in his Gospel. This is unexpected, but fruitful in elucidating the Biblical significance of what it means to repent and of who is called to repent. Ovey shows how the reader’s expectations are overturned as the supposedly righteous Pharisees, as well as the more obvious sinners, are called upon to repent. The fact that repentance is available at all to tax collectors and prostitutes, of all people, brings joy, though perplexity and opposition from the Pharisees.

As Luke turns in Acts to Paul’s preaching to Gentile audiences, we see again the same call to repentance, though now the emphasis is upon the sin of idolatry. Ovey shows how, in Paul’s preaching, this call can be extended even to those who are not in covenant with God and so have no covenant transgression of which to repent, for we are all God’s creatures and we sin by worshipping other gods. The false nature of the relationship which our idolatry has established creates a false sense of identity in the worshipper. For the idolator, repentance must involve a rejection of this false identity, as one comes into a new relationship with the true God. In a penetrating analysis, Ovey shows how idolatry continues to hold our postmodern world in its grip, despite that world’s apparent denial both of deities and of any absolute principles or ideals.

The relationship between repentance and saving faith is explored, to show that each requires the other. Emerging Church proponents who want to eliminate or distort the element of repentance in conversion are convincingly answered, as is Barth’s idiosyncratic understanding of repentance. The nature of hypocrisy, as seen particularly in the Pharisees, is examined in the light of the repentance that Christ requires.

As part of IVP’s New Studies in Biblical Theology series, this is more an academic than a popular work and so requires careful reading, and demands prayerful thought and reflection. Pastors and preachers will benefit from engaging with this incisive monograph.

Robert Strivens, Pastor, Bradford on Avon Baptist Church

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