Oral Roberts and the Rise of the Prosperity Gospel

Eerdmans. Apr. 2023. 271p. ISBN 9780802877277. pap. $26. REL
Oral Roberts (1918–2009) might well be remembered as a televangelist or as the founder of Oral Roberts University. Yet as Root (postdoctoral history fellow, Univ. of Missouri) indicates in this new biography, Roberts was a highly influential and somewhat complicated figure. He went from poverty in his early life during the Depression to a popular faith healer and evangelist during the postwar years. He proclaimed a gospel message of healing for the whole person—body, soul, and spirit. He was an early innovator who effectively used radio and television as powerful vehicles for gospel preaching, fundraising, and self-promotion. He led more than 300 healing campaigns and worked energetically as a televangelist, presenting a message of faith and prosperity. Yet by the 1980s, things began to unravel. After claiming that, in a vision, a 900-foot-tall Jesus had commanded him to build the City of Faith Medical and Research Center in Tulsa, OK, Roberts’s reputation began to decline. Not only did the medical complex prove to be a costly endeavor, but it also lacked patients and funding.
VERDICT Those interested in U.S. religious history or in 20th-century televangelism will find this well-researched and informative book to be of value.
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