Prominent Christian leaders across the nation responded to the death of Charismatic evangelist Oral Roberts by heaping praises on him, describing Roberts as “a man of God” and “a great hero of faith.”
“Oral Roberts was a man of God, and a great friend in ministry,” said Billy Graham in a statement Tuesday. “I loved him as a brother.”
Graham – who is the same age as Roberts, 91 – said the two shared many quiet conversations over the years and Roberts spoke at one of his early international conferences on evangelism in the 1960s. The two had spoken just three weeks ago, Graham shared, during which time Roberts told him he was near the end of his life’s journey.
“I look forward to the day that I will see Oral and Evelyn Roberts again in heaven – our eternal home,” said Graham, America’s most well-known evangelist.
Roberts passed away Tuesday at a hospital in Newport Beach, Calif., due to complications from pneumonia.
During his life, Roberts conducted hundreds of healing crusades, founded numerous organizations, wrote more than 130 books, and was among the early televangelists. But perhaps his greatest legacy as a Christian leader is Oral Roberts University, the largest Charismatic Christian university in the world.
At one point, the university boasted a medical, dental, law and nursing school, which later were all closed.
The medical school promoted the idea of combining conventional practices with prayer to heal people.
Roberts himself made his name as a healing evangelist, claiming to have laid hands on more than two million people for prayer healing. Some recipients claimed miraculous recoveries.
He received the gift of healing, Roberts said, at the age of 17 after God healed him of tuberculosis. As a teenager, Roberts was sickly and feared he would die from tuberculosis, but God reportedly talked to him and said that he would be healed at a tent revival he was en route to.
“Son, I am going to heal you, and you are to take My healing power to your generation,” Roberts said he heard God say. “You are to build Me a university and build it on My authority and the Holy Spirit.”
Dr. Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, in a statement after the evangelist’s death, described Roberts’ teaching and concepts as “foundational to the renewal that swept through the whole church.”
“If God had not, in His sovereign will, raised up the ministry of Oral Roberts, the entire charismatic movement might not have occurred,” he stated. “Oral shook the landscape with the inescapable reality and practicality of Jesus’ whole ministry.”
But Roberts’ public image was far from perfect. He sometimes made controversial remarks and did not escape the public’s skepticism towards televangelists.
In 1986, Roberts went in front of the camera to urge viewers to contribute money for the University’s medical center. He announced that God had told him that unless he raised $8 million to send medical missionaries to the center then God would call him home.
“I’m asking you to help extend my life,” Roberts said. “We’re at the point where God could call Oral Roberts home in March.”
He ended up exceeding the goal, raising $9.1 million. The center, however, closed in 1989.
Time magazine, which did a story on the 1986 fundraising drive entitled, “Your Money or His Life,” had biting words for the late evangelist after his death.
“Despite the plethora of miracles, Roberts was no match for the charismatic yet mainstreamed electricity generated by his contemporary Billy Graham,” read the story posted Tuesday on the magazine’s website. “There was always the reek of snake-oil to his piety, hence his long attempt at seeking respectability,” by, for example, joining the United Methodist Church in the late 1960s and settling down in one location, the magazine contends.
It added, “[T]he kind of faith he espoused was made of constant appeals to his audience to prove it to him – at $100 or less a pop.”
Similarly, but in a much less hostile manner, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, discussed the life of Roberts on his radio program Tuesday. Among the issues he discussed was whether Roberts’ life was theologically faithful and his connection to the prosperity gospel movement.
But despite some criticisms, Christian leaders for the most part had only good words to say about Roberts after his death. Controversial tactics and predictions aside, Roberts is generally seen as living a life of faith that sought to bring lost people to God.
Megachurch pastor and bestselling author Joel Osteen, who has known Roberts for decades, said he was “deeply saddened” by the evangelist’s death.
“He was a great hero of faith whose legacy will live on in the hearts of millions of believers worldwide,” Osteen said. “He profoundly affected all of us through his strong faith in Jesus Christ, and his deep compassion and love for his fellow man.”
Roberts would have celebrated his 92nd birthday next month on Jan. 24. A public memorial service in Tulsa, Okla., is being planned. Details have yet to be announced.