Oral Roberts, “prosperity gospel” pioneer, dead at 91

Oral Roberts died a few days ago. He made a profound impact upon Christianity in general and upon the field of “televangelism” in particular.  He was a little bit before my time, but growing up I recall hearing his name associated with the phrase “something good is going to happen to you!”

Of course, I think some of this enthusiasm was related to an appeal for dollars from his viewers. Roberts is known as a forerunner of the “health and wealth” gospel, and the USA Today article indicates. Another key phrase that he might have coined had to do with “seed faith” which means viewers giving a portion of their income (to him) in faith, believing that God would multiply their efforts. I’ve seen this kind of approach used countless times on the air, and TV preachers nowadays probably have Roberts to thank for it.

I am certain that Roberts did many good things; he started a university in Tulsa and impacted the face of Christianity for years to come. To be honest though, the one thing I remember about this man is his claim that “God would kill him if he (Roberts) didn’t raise a million dollars.” He locked himself in that tower on the ORU campus, waiting for the hand of judgment to fall. I have wondered how God who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills” would threated the life of one of his servants. I’ll have to doublecheck the history, but believe a dogtrack owner came to Roberts’ rescue and redeemed his life. I suppose the Lord works in mysterious ways, indeed.

A sidebar to the story, of course, is the rise of the “prosperity gospel” which is another way of saying the “health and wealth” gospel. This message is awfully appealing on the one hand and just plain awful on the other. It implies that health and money follow faith and that those who give large amounts of money can purchase happiness. This is not the gospel of Jesus who said, “if any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me” (Luke 9.23 CEV).

We are facing record unemployment and anxieties from all sides, and my prayer is that the people of God can perservere through these difficulties. Not everyone gets wealthy, and it should be said again our “treasure is in heaven.”

That’s the real prosperity.

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