A Biographical Sketch of Michael A.G. Haykin

Posted by: Steve Weaver and Ian Clary

Some historians have dabbled in what is called “counterfactual history,” taking delight in asking the question, “What if?” Steve Tally wrote Almost America: From the Colonists to Clinton: A “What If” History of the U.S., where he asks fun questions like, what if Robert E. Lee accepted Abraham Lincoln’s proposal to command the U.S. Army instead of the rebel forces.[1] This kind of historiography has the benefit of not only entertaining readers, it also forces them to think through issues of history in an unconventional way. For Christians, it entices us to consider the providence of God in history. Michael Haykin has often expressed an interest in this way of doing history and so we might play the same historiographical game with him. “What if” might be asked about the life of a young Azad Hakim whose father Sahir Sabir Hakim, in 1955, nearly returned to his native Kurdistan. “What if” he did in fact move? This would have meant taking his family from England, the place of birth of his then two-year-old son, to pursue a life in war torn northern Iraq. If this counterfactual history were the case, great books studying Basil of Caesarea, Andrew Fuller and John Sutcliff would never have been written and you would not be reading this biographical sketch.

Early Life

Azad Hakim would, in God’s providence, grow up not in Kirkuk, Iraq, nor in the industrial city of Birmingham, where he was born on November 24, 1953. Rather, Azad grew up in nearby Coventry, a town once known for its beautiful and historic cathedral which was destroyed during the Second World War. After moving to Canada in 1965 he would, like his father Simon, anglicize his name. In Canada, he became Michael Anthony George Haykin. This new name makes sense not only because he identified himself as a Briton, but also because his mother, Theresa Veronica (née O’Gorman) was Irish, from the town of Bray near Dublin. He took the names of her relatives.

Michael Haykin lived the next six years of his life in another quaint town, Ancaster, Ontario, near Hamilton, an industrial town akin to his native Birmingham. Though his formerly Muslim father converted to the religion of his Irish Catholic wife, their son was only nominally Christian. As he matured, Michael became repulsed by what he saw as the hypocrisy of the Catholics he knew—those who lived lives of debauchery and drunkenness during the week, only to go to confession and receive communion on Sundays without an ounce of regret. As a child of the late sixties, Michael turned from organized religion to revolution, opting to follow the teachings of Marx, Lenin and Mao. His hero was the would-be guerrilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Though a quiet man, Michael fell in with a like-minded crowd of revolutionaries and together they plotted the violent overthrow of the American Dream that was alive and well in Canada. This meant the donning of paramilitary apparel and the making of Molotov cocktails.


In 1971, Michael carried his Marxist ideals with him to London, Ontario, where he entered the philosophy program at the University of Western Ontario. Instead of rooming with a group of revolutionaries, he boarded in the home of an elderly couple. Their musings were less about Castro’s Cuba and more about the brevity of life and how quickly it all ends. Michael was now confronted not with the death of a capitalist society, but with the reality of his own death and its fast approach. Thoughts turned to fears and he embarked on a struggle that would last for much of his young adult life. In the face of such fears, the materialism of Marx offered him no comfort and slowly communism lost its hold.

Rather than turn to the Catholicism of his parents, Michael became interested in eastern religions and the New Age. The pantheism and escapism of Zen Buddhism, Taoism and Transcendental Meditation would surely dissipate the fears of death. Are we not just “spirits in a material world” as one popular music group would put it? Do we not all become absorbed into the One after we leave our earthly shell of a body? But try as he might, the fear of death remained.

The year 1971 was momentous for Michael, not only because of his move into higher education, but this was also the year that he became a Canadian citizen. Two other events also occurred that God would use to make Michael a citizen of his kingdom. The first happened in the autumn of that year. He had to write a paper on the existence of God for a course in philosophy, but before putting pen to paper, Michael was suddenly convinced that there was a God. He went from being agnostic to the possibility of God one moment, to believing in God the next. This did not mean that he converted to Christianity, nor did it mean that there was any change in his lifestyle. The second event came through his friendship with a fellow student named Doug whom he had known before going to Western, and who, as it turned out, was a committed Christian. Because Doug was one his few friends in university, Michael spent time with him and, as a result, was introduced to other Christians on campus. Though he does not recall being on the receiving end of their evangelism, he did at this time begin to pray to God.

In 1972, Michael transferred from Western to the philosophy program at the University of Toronto. He did this primarily because he had friends in Toronto; he would move into a one-bedroom apartment with two of his closest friends in the city’s downtown core. While in Toronto, he thought little about his belief in the existence of God and he continued to live an immoral lifestyle. Not surprisingly, all of this would become a recipe for disaster for the three friends; eventually they would go their separate ways. Michael moved out of the apartment to live by himself and, soon after, his life began to change. He cut his long hair and gave up smoking and drinking.

Conversion and marriage

In the summer of 1973, Michael got a job at Mother’s Pizza Parlour, a restaurant in the west end of Hamilton. This led to another momentous event. Also working at Mother’s was a young Glaswegian girl named Alison Lowe. She was a cashier while Michael made pizzas. An attractive woman, she caught Michael’s eye, and in God’s providence it turned out that she was also a Christian. Alison attended Stanley Avenue Baptist Church in Hamilton and, as a part of his desire for change, Michael decided to attend church with her. In the following autumn he returned to university in Toronto, studying during the week and travelling back to Hamilton to make pizzas and go to church. He was now in the third year of his philosophy degree, living alone and immersed in the thought world of the German existentialist Martin Heidegger. Through his studies of Heidegger, his fear and anxiety over death re-emerged. (A hallmark of Heidegger’s philosophy was the idea that authentic existence was only possible in the contemplation of one’s death.)

On Sundays, however, he found himself sitting under the pulpit ministry of Bruce Woods, the pastor of Stanley Avenue. Unlike the Marxism and eastern religions of his past, the gospel that Woods preached did have answers to Michael’s questions, and it did prove to alleviate his fears. The breaking point came in February 1974 after a series of nights where Michael would awaken in a cold sweat with a pounding heart. On the third of such nights he found himself on his knees in prayer, crying out to God for salvation. When he returned to Hamilton that weekend he knew that God was with him—he had been soundly converted to Christ. In April 1974, he took the step of obedience and was baptized by immersion as a believer at Stanley Avenue Baptist Church.

That same year, Michael graduated from Victoria College, University of Toronto—famous as the school of the literary critic and theorist Northrop Frye—with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Knowing that philosophy required a lot of original thought, which was not his forte, and coupled with his new-found Christian faith, Michael switched into the history program at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, a broadly evangelical school that trained ministers for the Anglican Church of Canada. During his time at Wycliffe, the school boasted a tremendous faculty that included Oliver O’Donovan and Richard Longenecker among others. Michael worked his way through the program, writing two theses: one on Augustine’s philosophy of history, and another on the concept of the “eighth day” in patristic thought. It was also during his graduate studies that he and Alison were married, on Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, 1976. This was also an important year in Michael’s life because his mother, a woman very dear to his heart, passed on to glory. Thankfully, in God’s mercy and care, she had been converted to Christ not long before her passing.

“I was hooked on the Fathers”

After graduating with a master of religion, Michael continued in the doctor of theology program at Wycliffe, focusing on patristics. This course of study became a lifelong professional interest. He recalls that his first in-depth encounter with the writings of the early church came through an essay that he was assigned by Jakób Jocz (1906–1983), an important Hebrew Christian theologian and missiologist who had escaped Europe during the Nazi atrocities. Jocz had his student writeon Novation’s On the Trinity. “From that point on,” Michael wrote, “I was hooked on the Fathers.”[2]

Michael took his first course in patristics a year later, taught by John Egan, S.J., who was a world renowned expert in patristic Trinitarianism, in particular that of Gregory of Nazianzus. Egan would supervise Michael’s doctoral thesis that focused on a fourth-century controversy over the deity of the Holy Spirit, and was later published as The Spirit of God: The Exegesis of 1 and 2 Corinthians in the Pneumatomachian Controversy of the Fourth Century.[3] Of Egan’s influence, Michael writes, “I will ever thank God that I had the enormous privilege of having this gifted man serve as my early mentor in the study of the church fathers. The course I took from him in 1976 was on the knowledge of God in the third- and fourth-century Greek and Latin fathers. John’s focus on the primary sources and rigorous methods of study opened up the vast riches of Patristic literature.”[4] The theology that Michael was learning from the great theologians of the early church helped him in battling his fears over death.

In the year that his mother passed away, he wrote a paper on the beatific vision in the works of Irenaeus of Lyons under the tutelage of Eugene R. Fairweather (1921–2002) of Trinity College, University of Toronto. Through this study, Michael’s interest in the Holy Spirit was kindled—so much so that his doctoral dissertation was focused on this subject, and he also became heavily involved in the Toronto charismatic scene. Although he later came “to reject much of what passed for biblical Christianity in the Charismatic movement,” Michael nevertheless retained an interest in the person and work of the Holy Spirit.[5] Happily, his studies in the Reformation/Puritan eras, along with his growing interest in the English Baptist communities of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, revealed a deep dependence upon the work of the Holy Spirit on the part of the key figures in these movements.

In 1989, Alison and Michael experienced the joy of becoming parents with the birth of their daughter Victoria. This joy was to be theirs again in 1991 when their son Nigel was born. (Both of them demonstrate their father’s scholarly aptitude, including an interest in ancient history, as they are each excelling in classics degrees.)

“a truly Renaissance man of church history”

After Michael graduated from the University of Toronto with a doctor of theology (Th.D.) in 1982, he was hired to teach church history at Central Baptist Seminary, then located in downtown Toronto. In 1993, Central merged with London Baptist Bible College to form Heritage Baptist College and Seminary, headquartered first in London and then in Cambridge, Ontario. He remained on faculty there until 2003.

Early in his teaching career, Michael came to realize that his expertise in the church fathers was not valued as an asset. At the time, evangelicals were just not interested in patristic studies. He believed that to be able to continue to teach in these institutions, he would need to develop other areas of expertise. This led to his aforementioned forays into Reformation, Puritan and Baptist studies. This experience, which must have been disappointing to a young professor, led to the development of a truly Renaissance man of church history. Among the nearly 100 publications of this well-rounded scholar are well-respected articles and monographs in not only his primary interest of patristics, but also in sixteenth-century Reformation, seventeenth-century Puritan, eighteenth-century Evangelicalism and seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Baptist studies. Though originally born both of necessity and his insatiable desire to learn, Michael’s unique combination of areas of expertise would inadvertently lead to a demand for his services from multiple institutions.

Principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary

By 2003, Michael had developed a reputation as a leading scholar through his many publications. He had also cofounded a publishing company with Janice Van Eck in 1999, Joshua Press, where he served as editorial director until 2002. During these years, he continued to teach part time at Heritage. In 2003, Michael turned down an opportunity to serve as editorial director of The Banner of Truth Trust, a publisher of Reformed and Puritan literature in the United Kingdom. The same year he also turned down a full-time teaching position in the United States at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Instead, he chose to remain in Canada to take the position of principal at Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College (TBS). The school had gone through some struggles in the years preceding, but Michael’s arrival brought a needed change, in terms of rebuilding the faculty, attracting a growing student body and regaining the support of churches.

As principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary, Michael also established the Jonathan Edwards Centre for Reformed Spirituality in 2003. It was later renamed the Jonathan Edwards Centre for Reformed Evangelicalism, before being labelled the Andrew Fuller Centre for Reformed Evangelicalism in 2006. From 2003 to 2010, Michael served as editor of the centre’s academic journal, Eusebeia.

Throughout his academic career, Michael has taught in a variety of institutions as a visiting/adjunct/research professor, even while teaching full time elsewhere. Among the institutions where he has served in this capacity are the Irish Baptist College (Belfast, Northern Ireland),

Knox Theological Seminary (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, Michigan), Tyndale Seminary (Toronto, Ontario) and the Séminaire Baptiste Évangélique du Québec (Montréal, Québec). From 2002 to 2007, Michael also served as a visiting professor of church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky).

“renowned early church scholar”

Southern, the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, once again approached Michael to take a full-time teaching position. Michael had come to realize that his primary calling was as an academic, both writing and instructing students, and not as an administrator. He decided, therefore, to leave his administrative post at TBS and invest his considerable skills in the classroom and in a writing ministry. Where better to do this than at one of the largest evangelical seminaries in the world? At Southern, Michael served alongside a world-class faculty and had the opportunity to supervise doctoral students in his long-beloved area of early church history. No longer a liability, Michael’s expertise in the patristic era was now a valued commodity. In fact, the article in the seminary newspaper announcing his hiring, while acknowledging his expertise in Baptist history and Christian spirituality, was headlined “SBTS appoints renowned early church scholar to faculty.”[6] Things had certainly changed in the evangelical world in the twenty-five years since Haykin had graduated with a doctorate in patristics.

Michael was hired to teach and supervise doctoral students in early church history, as well as to pioneer Southern’s new Ph.D. and D.Min. programs in biblical spirituality, the first such degrees offered by an evangelical institution. In this role, Michael’s long settled interest in biblical spirituality—what Andrew Fuller, in a description of his friend Samuel Pearce, called “the pure flame of Scriptural devotion”[7]—and the early church would have their expression in a teaching opportunity seemingly perfectly fitted to his gifts and interests. The move to Southern was a difficult one personally, due to his deep-seated love for Canada and his burden for the kingdom to spread there. As a result, Haykin continued to be involved in Canadian Baptist church life and to teach part time at Toronto Baptist Seminary.

The move to Southern also allowed Michael to utilize the considerable resources of the seminary to promote his love for Baptist history, especially for the eighteenth-century English Baptist theologian of the modern missionary movement—Andrew Fuller. The Andrew Fuller Centre for Reformed Evangelicalism was rebranded the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and began to promote Baptist studies through regular conferences and publications. Chief among the center’s activities is the publication of a critical edition of the works of Andrew Fuller. The Works of Andrew Fuller, for which Haykin will serve as general editor, will total sixteen volumes and will be published by the academic publisher Walter de Gruyter. Haykin has assembled a team of respected scholars to edit the individual volumes, slated to be published over the next several years.

This is an extract from A pure flame of devotion: the history of Christian Spirituality (Essays in honour of Michael A.G. Haykin) (On sale!)

[1] Steve Tally, Almost America: From the Colonists to Clinton: A “What If” History of the U.S. (New York: HarperCollins, 2000).

[2] Michael A.G. Haykin, Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 150.

[3] Michael A.G. Haykin, The Spirit of God: The Exegesis of 1 and 2 Corinthians in the Pneumatomachian Controversy of the Fourth Century (Leiden: Brill, 1994).

[4] Haykin, Rediscovering the Church Fathers, 151.

[5] Michael A.G. Haykin, The Empire of the Holy Spirit (Memphis: BorderStone Press, 2010), i; New edition forthcoming by H&E Publishing.

[6] Jeff Robinson, “SBTS appoints renowned early church scholar to faculty,” May 14, 2007 (http://news.sbts.edu/2007/05/14/sbts-appoints-renowned-early-churchscholar-to-faculty/; accessed August 5, 2013).

[7] Andrew Fuller, A Heart for Missions: The Classic Memoir of Samuel Pearce (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2006), 171.

Share this post