Oral Roberts and the Rise of the Prosperity Gospel
In 1946, God gave Oral Roberts a new Buick.
And this just one of many miracles the young, broke preacher learned to expect, as Oral Roberts would go on to build an evangelistic ministry worth millions of dollars, a medical complex, and a university. How do we interpret the life of a man who seemed to combine rampant consumerist excess with a sincere devotion to the gospel?
Seeking to answer this question, Jonathan Root weaves together accounts of Oral Roberts’s life in a balanced and engaging narrative. This fresh biography covers Roberts’s early life during the Great Depression in Oklahoma, his family’s financial struggles during his early career as a Pentecostal preacher, his healing ministry’s explosive growth in popularity via the new media of radio and television, and his empire’s eventual collapse. Root pays special attention to how Roberts introduced the “prosperity gospel” to American Protestants with his affirmation that God intends his followers to be both spiritually and physically fulfilled.
Root’s engaging narration looks to primary sources on Roberts’s life as well as the mythologized stories he told years later. The man who emerges is both deeply flawed and entirely earnest in his devotion to Christ. Oral Roberts and the Rise of the Prosperity Gospel will be an absorbing read for all those interested in American religious history and one of its most colorful figures.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Daniel Vaca
1. Teenage Runaway
2. The Discovery
3. Venture into Faith
4. A Million Front Seats
5. The Pearl of Great Price
6. Tulsa’s Greatest Natural Resource
9. The Crown Jewel
10. Called Home
A Note on the Sources
“Oral Roberts and the Rise of the Prosperity Gospel by Jonathan Root is a beautifully researched addition to Eerdmans series of religious biographies. Root offers an account that combines the insight of biography with the breadth of scholarly research, furthering the conversation about the origins of Prosperity Gospel influences that have come to conquer Pentecostal and other charismatic forms of Christianity. Root’s work gives the reader a deep understanding of Oral Roberts the person, and then follows the growth of that fragile human into a figure whose success, according to his own lights, must be the work of God. But what about his failures? Jonathan Root helps us understand how Roberts, and American Christianity, persist in Prosperity teaching and seeking the Seed Faith that always promises a better tomorrow. A much-needed work about a surprisingly overlooked figure in American religion.”
—Amy Artman, Missouri State University
“Fascinating. Timely. This lively book resurrects Oral Roberts as the preacher of modern capitalism we can no longer ignore.”
—Kate Bowler, Duke Divinity School
“No monochromatic portrait can ever capture Oral Roberts, America's premiere televangelist. Roberts was, to his detractors, a cynical pitchman; to his acolytes, an unabashedly sincere evangelist in whose presence miracles were not unknown. In this important and deeply contextualized biography, Jonathan Root meticulously portrays the Oral who defined the crossroads of modern American faith, combining deep sincerity and personal guile, yearning search and steely eyed shrewdness, salvific promise and practical help. Root meticulously portrays this religious pioneer as a fascinating, frustrating man who mirrors back the calico qualities of ourselves as seekers.”
—Mitch Horowitz, PEN Award–winning author of Occult America and Uncertain Places
“Few Americans could captivate an audience or sell them on the gospel like Oral Roberts. Jonathan Root’s smart, engaging, and original biography demonstrates how Roberts, whose life was equal parts hope and tragedy, engaged with the major issues of his era and reshaped the Christian faith to reach a consumer culture during the television age.”
—Matthew Avery Sutton, author of Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States during the Second World War