Oral Roberts, the
legendary evangelist who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most
influential Christian leaders of the 20th century, died Tuesday in Newport Beach,
Calif., due to complications from pneumonia. He was 91.
The evangelist and founder of Oral Roberts University (ORU)
died just days after he had been hospitalized near his California home because
of a fall. His son, Richard, and daughter, Roberta, were by his side at the
time of his death.
A memorial service is to be held Monday at 2 p.m. at ORU’s Mabee Center in Tulsa, Okla.
“The Oral Roberts University family was deeply saddened to
hear about the passing of our dear chancellor, Oral Roberts,” said Mark
Rutland, president of ORU. “Chancellor Roberts was one of the brilliant
spiritual lights of the 20th century and a giant of the Christian faith. At the
core of his legacy is a great university that bears his name. Like millions
worldwide, I am mourning his passing and am grateful for his visionary life and
Born Jan. 24, 1918,
north of Ada, Oklahoma, Roberts survived a raging flu epidemic that wiped out
more Americans than World War I. Before his life ended, he had written more
than 120 books, pioneered American television evangelism, bolstered belief in
divine healing and founded his trademark university.
“He’s one of the
most significant figures in American religious history,” said Pentecostal
historian Vinson Synan. “I think he planted the seeds publicly of what became
the charismatic renewal after 1960 because the American public first saw
Pentecostalism in their living rooms through his televised tent crusades.”
former president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, said of Roberts:
“If God had not, in His sovereign will, raised up the ministry of Oral Roberts,
the entire charismatic movement might not have occurred. Oral shook the
landscape with the inescapable reality and practicality of Jesus’ whole
ministry. His teaching and concepts were foundational to the renewal that swept
through the whole church. He taught concepts that spread throughout the world
and simplified and focused a spiritual lifestyle that is embraced by huge
sectors of today’s church.”
This man who
eventually preached to millions-and laid hands on 1.5 million sick people-faced
many physical challenges. He almost died from tuberculosis at age 17, but he
told audiences later that he was healed in July 1935 during a tent revival.
En route to the
meeting, he said he heard God say: “Son, I am going to heal you, and you are to
take My healing power to your generation. You are to build Me a university and
build it on My authority and the Holy Spirit.”
In 1965 ORU opened
its doors to its first 303 students. Small wonder that Roberts wrote in his
1995 autobiography, Expect A
Miracle, “Some believe in
miracles; some don’t. Take miracles out of Oral Roberts’ life and I’d be dead.”
The son of a poor
farmer who also picked cotton while preaching in Pentecostal Holiness churches,
Roberts credited his parents with instilling faith in him at a young age.
He married his
wife, Evelyn, and set out to lead his first revival at 23. After pastoring four
churches he moved to Tulsa and started the evangelistic ministry that later
bore his name.
would change in the 1950s after he seized on radio and TV’s potential to spread
the healing message. By 1955 his program was on 800 radio stations and 200 TV
outlets. Within two more years, 1,000 letters a day flooded his ministry.
While Roberts would
be known as a healing evangelist throughout his career, it was the university
he founded that brought lasting recognition. Although he stepped down as
president in 1993, he remained chancellor and a lifetime trustee.
Through the years,
the student body grew to 10 times its original size while the number of
undergraduate majors expanded from 24 to 63. By the spring of 2008, ORU’s rolls
included 37,000 alumni.
Among notable alums
are Clifton Taulbert (1971), entrepreneur and author who had one book nominated
for a Pulitzer Prize and another made into a movie; Minnesota Rep. Michele
Bachmann (1986-law); and Jim Stovall (1981), who co- founded a TV network for
the visually impaired after losing his sight at age 29.
Former student and
longtime professor Ralph Fagin, who assumed the interim presidency after
Richard Roberts stepped down in November of 2007, fondly recalls the sign Oral
Roberts kept on his desk: “Make no small plans here.”
Not all of Roberts’
initiatives succeeded. The highly touted medical school and City of Faith lasted
only a decade. A graduate nursing program is gone, along with the dental school
and law school.
thinks despite its closing in 1989, the medical school achieved a long-lasting
impact. Many doctors now recognize the value of combining prayer with
conventional treatment, something ORU’s medical school tried to
“He was thinking so
far ahead,” Fagin said. “I think about his launching out in terms of TV
ministry, but also the City of Faith and merging of prayer and medicine. All of
these things were so ahead of his time.”
Hinn calls Roberts a spiritual father whom he loved and respected, stretching
back to his teens, when he decided to follow Christ. They eventually became
neighbors in California, where Roberts lived out his final years.
“I have seen how
his heart yearned for people of all ages and backgrounds to know Jesus Christ
personally and how to enjoy the abundant life that is available to all believers,” Hinn said. “What a legacy he
leaves. Only heaven will reveal how many lives have been revolutionized through
his seed-faith teaching.”
Marilyn Hickey became aware of
Roberts in the early 1950s when her mother was healed at one of his tent
meetings in Denver. Though still skeptical after her mother was again healed,
this time of a breast tumor while watching Roberts’ TV program, Hickey was
filled with the Spirit three years later and helped host a return visit to the
“We became partners
[of] his ministry, and I began to see healings and miracles in my ministry,”
she said. “I said to the Lord, ‘I know You called me to be a teacher of the Word;
what is happening here?’ He said, ‘Psalms 133 says the anointing on the head
comes on the body. You are a partner to Oral Roberts’ ministry; he has a
healing and miracle ministry, so that anointing comes on you.”
Roberts lost his
wife in 2005 after 66 years of marriage. He called Evelyn Roberts the most
popular and respected person at ORU, saying when it was time for God to hand
out rewards, hers would exceed his.
who served as a past president of ORU, described his father as “the greatest
man of God I have ever known” and “a modern-day apostle of the healing
Oral Roberts is
survived by a daughter and son-in-law, Roberta and Ronald Potts; son Richard
and daughter-in-law Lindsay; 12 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
service will be broadcast live on the local channel 53
KGEB-TV and carried on satellite and cable via Golden Eagle Broadcasting.
The service will be broadcast live online at www.goldeneagle.tv.