Oral Roberts, Dead at 91

Randall Stephens

"Expect a miracle!" he told the millions who watched him on TV or attended his healing revivals. Few Christian leaders had the kind of influence or impact that Oral Roberts had.

With the recent passing of America's healing evangelist, I thought I'd post a couple of sections from obits here and provide some links. Roberts helped pentecostalism and the charismatic movement go mainstream in ways that would have been unimaginable in a previous generation. (If only Elvis had stayed in the AG church. Think of it!) Roberts life charted some of the most significant changes that pentecostals underwent from mid century to the present.

Keith Schneider, "Oral Roberts, Fiery Preacher, Dies at 91," NYT, 12/15/09.

Mr. Roberts’s will to succeed, as well as his fame, helped to elevate Pentecostal theology and practice, including the belief in faith healing, divine miracles and speaking in tongues, to the religious mainstream. During the 1970s, Time magazine reported, his television program “Oral Roberts and You” was the leading religious telecast in the nation. . . .

Mr. Roberts’s prominence and will to succeed were important factors in building the Pentecostal and charismatic movements and combining them into the fastest-growing Christian movements in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s and, by 2000, the largest Christian movement in the world. “No one had done more to bring the Pentecostal message to respectability and visibility in America,” David Edwin Harrell Jr. wrote in “Oral Roberts: An American Life” (Indiana University, 1985).

Bill Sherman, "Oral Roberts Dies," The Tulsa World, 12/15/09.

The often-controversial charismatic minister built Oral Roberts University, the now-closed City of Faith Medical and Research Center and the University Village Retirement Center in Tulsa.

He was a pioneer of the healing evangelism movement in the 1940s and ’50s and of radio and television ministry, which made his a household name to generations of Americans.

Roberts’ life was fashioned by what he described as a call to take “God’s healing power” to his generation, and every major effort he undertook was to that end.

See also:

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, "Oral Roberts, Pioneer Televangelist Dies," NPR, 12/16/09.

Charisma Magazine's collection of responses from the pentecostal charismatic community: "Healing Evangelist Oral Roberts Dies at Age 91," 12/15/09.

Blast from the past: See these Time magazine reports of Roberts's chilly reception in Australia (1956) and his damage control at ORU (2007).

I'm still waiting for Fox News or CNN to roll out Christopher Hitchens.


Thanks for this post, Randall. I'm sure you've been a very busy fellow since yesterday.
Christopher said…
Thanks for the collection of links, Randall. Have you read Harrell's biography of Roberts? How is it?

And while Elvis staying in the AG church would have been cool, I think he should've pursued Mormonism (as as some of the Osmonds claim he started to investigate near the end of his life). :)
Randall said…
I had no idea about the King's interest in Mormonism. I love that the Osmonds had little Elvis outfits that they all wore in the 70s.
deg said…

I won't speak for Randall here, but I thought Harrell's bio of Roberts was really good. It's well-based in the archives he had available to him back in the day at ORU. Recommended for anyone wanting to place Roberts in the broader context of postwar American religion.

Just FYI, Alan Brinkley had an article published on Roberts a few years back as well. I think it was titled "The Passions of Oral Roberts," and it appeared in his essay volume Liberalism and Its Discontents. Also worth checking out.
Christopher said…
Thanks, Darren. I'll be sure to check out both Harrell's biography and Brinkley's article.

I just may make Harrell's bio my between-semesters reading the next few weeks (after I finish reading and reviewing Wigger's bio of Asbury of course).
Randall said…
I agree with Darren. It's a great bio.

I've used the Brinkley book for a course I teach on Liberalism. Works very well. The OR chapter is a favorite.
John G. Turner said…
Harrell's is also one of my favorite religious biographies. I put it in the same category at William Martin's bio of Billy Graham: broadly sympathetic, based on solid scholarship, and full of rich detail.

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