It was lovely to be present this afternoon to celebrate the 80th birthday of Robert Oliver at the Leigh Park Hotel, Bradford on Avon. Unbeknown to Robert a surprise party had been organised. A book compiled in his honour was presented to him by Robert Strivens, one of the editors. Appropriately enough the title explores various biblical, theological and historical themes and different aspects of pastoral ministry. I contributed a chapter on The Preacher as Spirit-Empowered Preacher of the Word. EP Books, 2016, p. 278.
I first came across Robert Oliver when he was appointed to teach Church History at the London Theological Seminary. I studied there from 1988-1990 and Robert began his work in 1989. As I recall, he picked up the syllabus at the 18th Century, with special reference to the Evangelical Revival and Great Awakening, and took us through to the 20th century. His lectures were the product of careful research and were delivered in a gripping and lively way that only served to enhance my love of church history.
Robert's remarks on my history essays were schoolmasterly in their accuracy and economy. He punctured my presumptuous attempt, as he saw it, to rewrite Arnold Dallimore's 2 volume biography of George Whitefield in a lengthy essay that bore little relationship to the set topic: Whitefiled as a Leader of the Great Awakening. The need to be brief and to the point rather than bulky and ill-focused was a useful bit of criticism for a budding preacher and wannabe writer.
In those days students were expected to submit sermon manuscripts to lecturers and then receive their feedback in a one-to-one tutorial session. On reviewing one of my efforts, Robert helpfully suggested that I should divide my material under a number of headings which would make it easier for the congregation to follow what I was trying to say. The substance was alright, he averred, but my material had no obvious structure. And so it is today that my sermons invariably have three or four clearly stated points.
Our paths crossed once more when I took up my first pastorate in Stalbridge, Dorset in 1991. It was then that I started to attend the Bradford on Avon Ministers' Fraternal of which Robert was Chair until he stepped down in January of this year. After a spell out of pastoral work I was pleased to be able to rejoin the fraternal when called to my current pastorate in 2003.
Like many I have reason to be thankful to God for Robert's ministry and friendship, and was honoured to be asked to contribute an essay to this Fetschrift. I look forward to reading the other contributions and hope that Robert enjoys our offering. Available here.