The Bible and Culture

The Bible and Culture

Oral Roberts Speaks No More


Oral Roberts was that most unusual of all kinds of Methodists–a Pentecostal one. He had a big heart, a large evangelistic career, and a big vision, even a vision of creating a huge medical center to go with the university he was founding.But of all the things we know about Oral Roberts he will undoubtedly be best remembered for all the faith healing services, and all the persons who benefited from his ministry.

Passing away at 91 years of age from pneumonia and complications from a fall, his son Rick, who had inherited the mantle of the Oral Roberts ministry from his father had these words of tribute to post on their website, calling his father—- “A modern-day apostle of the healing ministry, an author, educator, evangelist, prophet, and innovator, he was the only man of his generation to build a worldwide ministry, an accredited university, and a medical school. His name is synonymous with miracles. And he came along when many in Christendom did not believe in God’s power and goodness.”


He is right about this, and there is much more that could be said.I remember well before the fall of the Iron Curtain, that our Methodist church received requests from Methodists in Estonia.Their top request— that they be prayed for at the Oral Roberts prayer tower.The news of Roberts prayer and healing ministry even before computers and cell phones could not be kept out by the Iron Curtain.

Like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts was a man with a big vision, who believed, as John Wesley once said that “the world is my parish”. He could not be confined to Oklahoma or the small time tent revival circuit. He would attempt big things for God including 300 healing crusades in more than 35 countries.Like Wesley, he was a hard man to keep track of so often was he on the move, never mind keep up with.


Sadly, some of what Roberts will be most remembered for is really not what is most significant about him— namely his fund-raising techniques.Like many evangelists, Roberts was a charismatic speaker, and sometimes given to grand claims.In 1987, Roberts said during a fundraising drive for his television ministry that unless he could raise $8 million, God would “call him home.”He ended up raising more than $9 million for the campaign.In that same year he claimed to have raised the dead.Ten years before in 1977, he claimed to have had a vision of a 900-foot Jesus who told him to build a hospital. It was later in need of a major bail out and buy out.

Whatever one thinks about some of Roberts more colorful claims and ministry strategies, there can be no doubt about the great amount of good the man did in the service of Christ. Many people were indeed saved and healed as the Lord used this man all over the world.He was no charlatan, no snake oil salesman, but rather one who was in daily contact with the Lord from whom all healing ultimately flows.


I have on numerous occasions had various students at Asbury who were first trained at ORU.I can tell you now that they found that school a faith nurturing place as well as a play striving for academic excellence.They came to us with the right balance of head and heart, keen intellect and piety that would have pleased John Wesley no end.

Farewell Oral. We will see you in the Kingdom when it comes on earth where the healing waters flow from the throne, and the trees all have medicinal leaves. I am sure by now you have heard the approbation of the Master— ‘well done good and faithful servant, inherit the Kingdom’. A person should be remembered at their best and for their best work and traits. May we all be graded with grace at the Final Examination.

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Wally Gator

posted December 15, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Thank heavens!! This man was totally evil. He is burning in hell.

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posted December 15, 2009 at 9:27 pm

dr. witherington,
thank you for the kind retrospective on oral roberts and his ministry. count me among those who were skeptical of some of his more unusual claims, but also an admirer of his faith, his stamina, and his desire to see people come to know Jesus. i also appreciated his commitment to racially integrating his crusades at a time when that could not have been a popular thing to do in the south.
oral roberts was far from perfect, and i don’t think we need to defend his excesses or eccentricities. but i’m glad someone is reflecting on his legacy in a spirit of love and mercy. well done.

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David Peterson

posted December 15, 2009 at 11:09 pm

As an ORU grad I’m thankful for this balanced assessment of Oral’s life and ministry. I am always amazed by the “he’s burning in hell” comments – especially from folks claiming to be Christians. Surely such judgments belong in God’s hands.

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posted December 15, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Oh goodness. What to do, what to do, what to do with this?
I am thankful for the good done by any servant of God. I also think that ministers need to be held accountable for their bold claims. Raising people from the dead? Emotional manipulation of elderly and vulnerable people who are convinced God will strike their beloved televangelist dead if they don’t send him some cash? Was there ever an apology issued for these things? See, I think that ministers or evangelists like this are part of the reason so many people are skeptical these days. They’ve just seen it too much, from too many of those in leadership. That doesn’t mean that a person hasn’t done good – but at what cost? I do not know the answer to this.
I have an elderly relative who was conned by Oral’s claims that God would take his life if he did not raise the money. She sent great sums of money, asked for prayer for a need in her life, and was promptly ignored by the great one and his ministry. They used her, and they used many people. It’s sad.

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Ben Witherington

posted December 16, 2009 at 7:03 am

Holly I entirely agree with you. And I can’t speak for you, but I know I have done some stupid things in my life even though I am, I hope a true servant of the Lord, and I would not want my life’s work caricatured or characterized by my most stupid or sinful moments in life.

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posted December 16, 2009 at 8:25 am

To quote the poet of Israel, “How art the mighty fallen!” Like the prince of Israel mourned by David, Roberts was a flawed man. But he was a man called of God. He was a man whose life and work was greatly used of God. He was exceptional in many ways. His passing is cause for pause to reflect not only upon his life and work for Christ but to consider where are those men who will so give themselves to ministry that God can use them in at least as significant a way.

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Jeff Doles

posted December 16, 2009 at 9:11 am

I am thankful for Oral Roberts, his life, his faith, his ministry and his legacy. God has used him at many points in my life.

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posted December 16, 2009 at 10:17 am

Yes, God’s grace does indeed cover our flaws and our imperfections, and He cleanses us from sin. I’m grateful for this in my own life, in all of our lives.
And yet…I wonder…was there ever an apology issued? I think that most people are willing to forgive and allow people to move on and grow beyond their weaknesses – if sincere apologies are made. This is something that I don’t know about Oral.
I am also intensely grateful that God knows these things and all things, and that He alone looks at the heart. I am so glad it is not my job. :)

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Dave Rattigan

posted December 16, 2009 at 11:53 am

Ordinarily I’d feel more than a bit queasy about piling on even a blatant charlatan like Roberts so soon after his passing. But in life he seemed more than willing to exploit his own allegedly imminent death for power and financial gain, so fair’s fair.
Between fawning eulogies for master manipulators and increasing substitution of spammy email forwards (usually with their tacky fonts and gaudy colours preserved) for actual blog posts, reasons for continuing to read this blog are fast fading.

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posted December 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Oral Roberts was a famous man. His fame was based on three things.
1. the large size of the revenue of his various enterprises
2. promising the sick and disabled that he,or the Lord acting through him, would heal them
3. promising the poor he, or the Lord acting through him, would make them prosper
These are not a few aberrant, stupid things. They are the basic elements of Oral Roberts’ career.
The first is a fact. But when it came to delivering health and wealth, much more often than not those who contributed to his coffers obtained no measurable benefit. By fleecing these millions and frustrating their hopes, Oral Roberts left the world a worse place than it would have been without him.

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Ben Witherington

posted December 16, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Hi Dave:
Like many of view, I find the prosperity Gospel a false Gospel, and Oral was certainly the forebear of Joel Osteen and others like him in that Gospel. But this was hardly most of what Roberts said, did, preached or thought. And for the record, there have been a lot of people healed, physically healed, as well as emotionally or spiritually healed, through the faith healing ministries of Roberts and other genuine faith healers. And of course this is what makes the matter difficult. God can write straight with a crooked stick. Does this imply a divine endorsement of everything Roberts said or did– of course not. But he was a genuine Christian person, not a charlatan. If we concluded that every person guilty of bad theology, like prosperity preaching, was actually a non-Christian, there would be a very short list of Christians.

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posted December 16, 2009 at 5:04 pm

While I find much of Oral Roberts career to be not only bad theologically, but morally, i’m convinced that he was doing his best for God. I find I cannot pass the judgement that says the world would have been better without him- it’s not mine to judge. i know that there are many christians who would say that I and my favorite thinkers, like you, Rob Bell, Scot Mcnight, NT Wright, etc, would be accused of heresy by many. So I will choose to find the good that he did and celebrate it; make others beware of the not so good as i see it; and let God do the judgement passing.

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Wally Gator

posted December 16, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I’m not a Christian. I could never subscribe to such an odious philosophy. And if there was any justice, the aptly-named Oral should be burning in hell.

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Ben Witherington

posted December 16, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Well Wally around here if you want to be that judgmental then you need to have the courage of your convictions by giving your real name, not some pseudonym like Wally Gator. Otherwise, you should hush. This blog is not a place for people to vent and fire and fallback without accepting responsibility for their own words.

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David Kelly

posted December 16, 2009 at 9:50 pm

I agree with both Leo and Ben. Oral Roberts was not a perfect person, but then again, which of us is? Wally, I pray that you find peace and comfort in the Lord. He has much to offer. Oral was a good and imperfect servant of the Lord and we should all strive to do what service we can and are called to, as Oral did. He will be missed…for now.

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David Sirman

posted December 16, 2009 at 11:45 pm

I am an alumni of Oral Roberts University, and had the privilege of sitting under his teaching on the Holy Spirit (much needed as received the infilling of the Holy Spirit while a member of the United Methodist Church). While I certainly agree Oral Roberts was not perfect, and I grieved the missteps made late in his and son’s ministry, I believe he was a man of great faith and vision, and my experience and that of hundreds more at the university he founded were encouraged in their faith in God and His working through mere men, so I celebrae his life for what it was, pure and simple devotion to our LORD Jesus Christ.

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Anthony Forsyth

posted December 17, 2009 at 10:25 am

The trouble is that “we will see you in the Kingdom” is as much a judgement as “he is burning in hell”.
When I read Matthew 7:21ff I cannot help but wonder: if it is not referring to the prosperity gospel teachers, who does it refer to? They claim prophecy, the driving out of demons and miracles and yet do they really do the will of the Father?
No, nobody is perfect, but that does not mean we should attribute salvation to someone simply because in the midst of all the harm they have caused they “proclaimed the name of Jesus”.
I find this troubling and have no idea quite where I stand on it all.

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Paul C. Draper

posted December 17, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Many years ago, I met a Pentecostal preacher who claimed to have raised the dead. Somehow, for everything else he claimed to represent, I viewed him as a liar. “Greater things than this shall you do in My name…” Perhaps my faith is weak, but on the other hand there are many who claim the name Christian who do great disservice to the faith. I have no idea why certain folks believe
‘lies’ will lead to greater faith. And even self-delusions stem from deceitful hearts. I fear somewhere in the process, Oral may have come to view himself as indispensible to God’s plan.
As an Asbury alum raised Catholic, I believe in miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, the gift of discernment is often neglected. Whenever the ‘cult’ of an evangelist overshadows the cross, something seems wrong to me. Oral personally crossed the line a time or two.

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posted December 17, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Dr. Witherington,
Good overall post.

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Jeff Doles

posted December 18, 2009 at 11:44 am

The gospel Oral Roberts preached was that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried and that He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. It was the gospel of salvation by grace through faith.
Now, he had some other doctrines with which many here obviously disagree. But I think it would be more circumspect to refrain from labeling those things as “false gospel.” For they are secondary issues, not the primary issue of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
See, when we start labeling non-gospel issues with which we disagree as “false gospel,” we are coming into a different kind of territory. It was such a territory that Paul felt constrained to say of any who would preach a different, false gospel, “Let him be accursed” (in which case, Wally Gator’s comment that Roberts should burn in hell would be apropos). But of course, Paul was not speaking of secondary issues of doctrines over which different Christians might agree. He was speaking about the saving gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
So, while it is okay to disagree over secondary, non-gospel issues, let us refrain from labeling such doctrines we disagree with as “false gospel,” or else we will be doing damage to the gospel.
In Bible college and seminary, I was taught the old saying, “In primary things, unity. In secondary things, liberty. In all things, charity.” Does that still hold true today?

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posted December 19, 2009 at 10:52 am

Roberts was on Rod Parsley’s show very recently – last week – and supported Parsley’s campaign to “send your greatest seed” (to him) along with a prayer and in return you’d get a prayer cloth blessed on an altar on December 7,.
Where does Parsley rank on this sort of thing? Doing the Lord’s work, or not?
Parsley explicitly said that people sending him money would get relief for:
family problems (e.g pending divorce)
bill-payment issues
health problems
Is that okay these days? Is this what the Prosperity Gospel is all about, “planting seeds” via payments to ministers in return for promises of relief from troubles?
To me “prosperity” is not relief from troubles, but rather an improvement from a reasonably-satisfying situation, but Parsley et al never take that approach. It’s always pitched at people in distress.
BTW, I know quite a few devout Christians who are unhappy with the emergence of the Prosperity Gospel in recent decades.

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David Copeland

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:40 am

Great Article.
He who is without sin let him cast the first stone. The great thing about Jesus is He still uses imperfect people to do His work. I know for myself, I want to do it right; I really really want to do it right! But I know I am coming short of the Glory of God.
Until you can look into a man’s heart and really see his true motives…put down the rocks.
I’m glad Jesus will be my judge and not man.

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James Hathaway

posted January 18, 2010 at 2:32 pm

What evidence is there that Oral Roberts healed anyone?

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