Michael J. Ovey. The Feasts of Repentance: From Luke-Acts to Systematic and Pastoral Theology. IVP, 2019. See here to purchase the book.
Michael J. Ovey was a scholar, writer, and the principal of Oak Hill College in London. As the title indicates, this book is about the subject of repentance in Luke-Acts. While Luke-Acts is its main source, it gets into broader issues and questions concerning repentance.
For the first fifty pages or so, Ovey is plodding along, stating the obvious. He tries to connect stories in Luke’s Gospel to repentance by showing that Jesus’s adversaries lacked a sincerely repentant attitude because they had the spiritual flaws that people usually associate Jesus’s adversaries (i.e., prizing wealth and status, exclusion of others).
Around page 54, the book gets interesting. Ovey starts to address difficult questions as well as qualifies his points by seriously addressing potential and actual objections.
—-Is there such a thing as culpable spiritual ignorance (see Acts 3:17; 17:30-31)?
—-In what way were Zechariah and Elizabeth righteous (Luke 1:6)? They were not sinless, right?
—-Is repentance mere moralism and self-improvement?
—-Do people become authentically human through their relations? Ovey believes that a “yes” answer is a key to the definition of repentance and an accounting of its importance, particularly when it comes to the human relationship with God. But, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, he raises serious reservations.
—-What is the relationship between faith and repentance? If one is justified by faith alone, does that mean that repentance is unnecessary, incidental, or optional to salvation?
—-Does forgiveness entail a miscarriage of justice? How does miscarrying justice help anyone?
Some of Ovey’s answers are better than others. His discussion of forgiveness is particularly cogent, as Ovey balances justice, compassion, and the importance of repentance and demonstrating fruits of repentance, all while grounding what he says in Scripture. Ovey also distinguishes between the church as a place of forgiveness, repentance, and discipline and the world as a place of judgment. His discussion of the relationship between faith and repentance is likewise helpful, as when he says that faith is repentance-shaped and repentance is faith-shaped.
I am somewhat ambivalent about Ovey’s critique of Brian McLaren’s view on repentance. McLaren presents repentance as a change in direction, away from the futility of sin. Ovey maintains that McLaren’s definition prioritizes what humans want over what God requires: it focuses on people asking themselves how their sin is working out for them, rather than what God wants. Ovey also thinks that McLaren’s definition lacks contrition. I can see Ovey’s point when he accuses McLaren’s definition of being anthropocentric rather than theocentric. I do not think that what humans want should play no role in repentance, however, since people start to appreciate righteousness when they see the ditches into which sin has landed them. Ovey’s point on contrition rubs me the wrong way, since how can God command us to feel a certain way? And does one have to be emotional to make a change in one’s life?
Along the journey, Ovey broaches other points, such as Calvin’s response to Catholic arguments for honoring saints, and how humans who idolize machines come to resemble what they idolize.
Repentance is a subject that has long been a stumblingblock to me. When it is defined as ceasing to do evil and learning to do good, I trip over it, for can anyone seriously cease doing evil? To make that a requirement for salvation, in my opinion, makes salvation a matter of works rather than a celebration of God’s free grace. Ovey’s book is helpful in its presentation of this difficult subject.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.