The Legacy of Oral Roberts

From prosperity gospel to Pentecostalism, Oral Roberts helped influence a generation of Christians. (Think Joel Osteen and Ted Haggard, too.) What will his long-term legacy be?

BY: Patton Dodd


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Seed Faith and the prosperity gospel that Roberts popularized and propagated is developing an increasingly vexing legacy: sociologists such as Peter Berger have argued that prosperity teaching can be instrumental in pulling people out of poverty, especially in the southern hemisphere where the doctrine has been imported wholesale. But as this brief documentary by Nathan Clarke shows, prosperity teaching can take the form of a wishful and magical thinking with few discernible roots in Christianity’s scripture or historical witness. Within our own borders, prosperity thinking is now being blamed for the collapse of some portions of the housing market—a complicated claim, but one with enough merit to give Christians pause.

Is this Oral Roberts’ legacy? It’s certainly part of it, an unfortunately difficult admixture for a life that will receive a bounty of encomiums from some Christian quarters in the days to come. I have several friends who graduated from ORU—the people I met in my one year there were some of the finest I have had the pleasure to know (and most of them have long since shed the prosperity gospel from their faith). Tonight, I’ve watched them honor Oral Roberts on Facebook and Twitter as a "great inspiration" and "obedient servant." There are a thousand more of those, and they are, indeed, honorable things to say. But I’m hoping the conversation about Roberts, especially among his devotees, won’t end there. It’s perhaps fitting that Roberts died in the same year that the Lausanne Movement, an international group of Christian ministers and theologians, issued its statement on prosperity teaching—a level-headed look at the complicated gains of that teaching, but one that demands it be left behind for a truer gospel. That is a great place for the conversation about Oral Roberts to begin.

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