In reality, most Americans probably know of Oral Roberts through a combination of his intended and unintended media exposure. Roberts frequently attracted controversy. Most famously, he became known for claiming to receive a vision of a 900 foot Jesus instructing them to build the City of Faith and, when hard times hit his empire, telling his followers that if a sufficient amount of gifts was not received within a specified amount of time, God would end his life. In 1987, Roberts became the focus of intense scrutiny in light of claims made by his ministry that a dead person had been brought to life.
In the end, however, Oral Roberts should be measured by his message. Though his claims of visions and healings drew deserved attention, along with both scrutiny and embarrassment, it was the core of his message that is most problematic. In his prime years, Roberts was the most significant agent for prosperity theology.
Prosperity theology teaches that God promises his people financial gain and bodily health. It is a false Gospel that turns the Gospel of Christ upside-down. The true Gospel offers forgiveness of sins and leads to a life of discipleship. Following Christ demands poverty more often than wealth, and we are not promised relief from physical ills, injury, sickness, or death. Christians die along with all other mortals, but we are promised the gift of eternal life in Christ…
…But the greatest tragedy in all this is the perpetuation of prosperity theology, passed on by Oral Roberts to a new generation. I am thankful for every sinner who came to know the Gospel of Christ through the preaching of Oral Roberts, and I heard him preach about salvation in ways that were true and powerful. But I can only lament the prosperity theology that he leaves in his long shadow.
The only thing I would question is that Oral Roberts ever preached a true and powerful Gospel. How could it be if the faith that he preached was more akin to magic?
We must also be honest. The typical SBC’er, Mohler’s denomination, believes in the properity Gospel, too. It is far more sublte, but just as deadly. The SBC’s core theology is one of a modernistic pragmatic paradigm that offers personal prosperity and things like national security if rules are followed, tithes are paid, power prayers made, righteous methods are applied, and if one engages in social reform activism. In short, both the bizarre health and wealth Gospel and other “conservative” mainline prosperity Gospels are all based upon the “if only” of idealism. Far from being an aberration of Pop American Theologies, Roberts brand of PHWG(prosperity, health/wealth Gospel) is quite like that held by the mainstream SBC’er. The SBC’s icons, such as Elmer Townes and Henry Blackaby, testify amply to the manipulative, experiential, orientation of Southern Baptist’s Methodistic beliefs. Oral Roberts’ prosperity Gospel was just another bird in the same flock of performance/reward pop-christian theology, an early forerunner of the current Emergent diminution of biblical truth. For the typical SBC’er, and those who follow the likes of Roberts, theirs is a magic talisman religion, not far removed from the occult.
As you listen to this, make note of OR’s progression from Holiness Pentacostalism to United Methodism. For those of you who have read here about Element Church, you will understand the connection.
The people who follow signs and wonders are, well, as Jesus said, a perverse and wicked generation. They’re in it for the same thing… that they may consume whatever they are hoping for upon their own lusts. They really care little about the signs, as Jesus said. They don’t even follow for that reason, rather, they follow to fill their bellies, John 6.26. When approached about how they might do the miraculous works of God, he simply said to them to believe in him who God has sent. Obviously not the answer someone seeking for a new Hummer wants to hear. Unfortunately, for so many who have been offered the riches and health they are seeking, believing on the Lord isn’t a better offer. Jesus is the full reward and gift that God gives as an inheritance to the saints, and who wants to be seen coming to church riding on the Lord’s back?