What was Oral Roberts's main legacy? How important a figure was he? Oral Roberts University president Mark Rutland told CT that he and Billy Graham "were the two preeminent luminaries of the 20th century."

Preeminent historian of Pentecostalism Grant Wacker, author of Heaven Below, largely agrees.

"Other than Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr., and maybe Jerry Falwell, it would be hard to name a different religious leader of more importance," he told USA Today. "In the middle of the 20th century, he took faith healing and Pentecostalism away from a frowzy backwoods image and gave it an upbeat face."

Wacker is (justifiably) ubiquitous in the obituaries today. He told The Washington Post, "If we set aside Billy Graham and Martin Luther King and [Jerry] Falwell in the sense that their influence was religious but also political and social, outside them Roberts was the most important religious figure in the second half of the 20th Century. Just as a religious figure. And in lots of ways. The most obvious way was he brought Pentecostalism out of the backwoods and made it respectable. One cannot imagine the modern day Pentecostalism without him. He transformed its image, but also its practice."

Mark Silk, director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, isn't so sure. "It's the respectability thing I wonder about," he said of Wacker's assessment. "Roberts' signal contribution to Pentecostal teaching was the Prosperity Gospel—the idea that turning your life over to Jesus and doing good would make you rich in the things of this world. Adherents of this teaching around the world are legion. But, it seems to me, among the cultured despisers of Pentecostalism—religious and secular alike—it's ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

June
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Current IssueHow Christians See Muslims
How Christians See Muslims Subscriber Access Only
Missions experts urge concern for both souls and security.
RecommendedCover Story: Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel Church
Cover Story: Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel ChurchSubscriber Access Only
Some visitors claim to be healed. Others claim to receive direct words from God. Is it 'real'--or dangerous?
TrendingThe Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict
The Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict
How the former FBI director’s interest in Reinhold Niebuhr shaped his approach to political power.
Editor's PickSasse: Adolescence Is a Gift, but Extended Adolescence Is a Trap
Ben Sasse: Adolescence Is a Gift, but Extended Adolescence Is a Trap
The Nebraska senator wants parents to get serious about shepherding kids into responsible adulthood.
Christianity Today
Why the Oral Roberts Obituaries Are Wrong
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

December 2009

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.