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Vinson Synan: Oral Roberts

Vinson Synan, “Oral Roberts: Son of Pentecostalism, Father of the Charismatic Movement,” Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology, 2:2 (2017) pages 5-21.

Dr. Synan’s very fine article describes Oral Roberts (1918-2009) as “one of the most important religious figures of the twentieth century,” and that is indeed true. He, more that any person, brought Pentecostalism to the public fore during the 1950’s and 1960’s with his televised tent healing revivals. He then helped lead, inspire and coach the new charismatic movement that broke out in the 1960’s.

Dr. Synan is recognized as the dean of Pentecostal/charismatic historians. From his pen have flowed some of the major histories of the various Spirit-filled movements of this Century and the past. His first work, The Holiness Pentecostal Movement in the United States (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) has remained a classic and continues in print to this day. He was also a longtime friend of the Rev. Roberts, and served as Dean of Oral Roberts University’s College of Theology and Ministry.

In this concise article, Dr. Synan outlines Oral Robert’s impressive spiritual journey and life. He was born into a dirt-poor Pentecostal household in Oklahoma, suffered from tuberculosis as a teen, but was miraculously healed. He went on to become a Church of God minister. He rose in rank and responsibilities in that denomination, but surrendered that role and its securities to become a traveling healing evangelist. In that he was perhaps the most successful in his class, aided by the advent of radio and television, which his ministry team mastered. By 1960, he was the world’s best known Pentecostal minister and “faith healer,” a term he disliked. Roberts friendship with Billy Graham opened doors of opportunities and increased interest in the healing ministry among previously suspicious Evangelicals – not a small achievement.

In 1965 he founded ORU, which has become one of the great Christian Universities of the World. At that time, he also became a key figure in the new Charismatic Movement (which might be dated at 1960). Oral Roberts influence among charismatics came mainly through his TV ministry, but increased by his surprise transfer to the United Methodist Church where he became an elder (1968). His friendship and consistent support of Demos Shakarian and his Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship International (FGBMFI) was also a major boost to the Charismatic Movement.

Roberts was ousted from the United Methodist because of his sometimes-extravagant fund raising tactics, as in claims that the Lord would call him to his heavenly home unless the funding for his “City of Faith” complex was complete. But by that time, Rev. Roberts was definitively planted in Charismatic circles and that change was of no great concern. Years later when he did go to his heavenly reward, his stature as both a Pentecostal and Charismatic was unchallenged.

This is a very insightful article, a must read for those want to know about the relationship between Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement. I must register a minor disagreement with its title. It is a bit of a stretch to call Oral Roberts “Father” of the Charismatic Movement. This suggests that without him it would not have been birthed. Certainly, without him it would have grown slower or flowed in different (perhaps inferior) direction. And certainly, ORU would not have been birthed. But a movement like the Charismatic Movement is made up of many rivers that flow into one mighty river, as for instance the Mississippi. Which secondary river is the most important? Similarly, there were several “fathers” of the Charismatic Movement, such as Demos Sharakian,[1] Dennis Bennett, Glenn Clark and a mother too (Agnes Sanford).[2]

Aside from this historian’s quibble this article is really a great summary of Oral Robert’s contribution to the Spirit-filled churches of the modern era (sometimes called “Renewalist” churches) and a great source. I especially recommend it to college students and seminarians who want to study either Pentecostalism or the Charismatic movement.

A final observation. It is wonderful to see the rebirth of the Spiritus journal. It first appeared decades ago and then disappeared, but this issue indicates that it will be among the most important journals for Renewalist Christians.

Reviewed by William De Arteaga


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[1] I have suggested in an earlier article that the founding of the FGBMFI may be a better marker for the beginning of the Charismatic Movement than Fr. Dennis Bennett’s dramatic announcement that he spoke in tongues (1960). See William De Arteaga, “Demos Shakarian and His Ecumenical Businessmen,” Pneuma Review (Summer 2014).

[2] On the importance of Agnes Sanford to the Charismatic Movement see my work, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015)

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Category: Church History, Winter 2018

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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