HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Oral Roberts: An American Life
Author: David Edwin Harrell Jr.
Publisher: HarperCollins, republished in 1987
ISBN-13: 978-0253158444 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0253158443 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0062503817 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0062503812 (Paperback)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Harrell, David Edwin Jr. Oral Roberts: An American Life (published in 1985 by Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN). Granville “Oral” Roberts (1918–2009) was an American Pentecostal- Methodist preacher who helped to bring the Charismatic movement into the mainstream. Born in Pontotoc County, OK, the fifth and youngest child of a minister named Ellis Melvin Roberts, he became a traveling faith healer in the Pentecostal Holiness Church with a large mobile tent. However, in 1947 he developed the “seed faith” doctrine, also known the “prosperity gospel” and the “abundant life teaching.” That year, he founded the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association which began and conducting evangelistic and faith healing crusades across America and around the world. In addition, he was a pioneer televangelist and began broadcasting his revivals by television in 1954. In 1963, he founded Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK. And in 1968, he and his wife were received as members of the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa. Always controversial, Oral Roberts died in 2009 at the age of 91.
According to a 1987 article in the New York Review of Books by Martin Gardner, the “most accurate and best documented biography is Oral Roberts: An American Life, an objective study by David Edwin Harrell Jr., a historian at Auburn University.” Harrell, who is a member of the church of Chrisst, is an American historian who is best known for his scholarship of religion in the United States. Formerly a University Scholar and Chairman of the History Department at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, he is a Professor Emeritus at Auburn University, where he served as the Breedan Eminent Scholar of Southern History. He has written works about Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement such as All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America, as well as biographies of Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson. In 2006, he published Unto a Good Land: A History of the American People, a college textbook that discusses the effects of religion in the history of the United States. I have had the privilege of meeting Dr. Harrell and hearing him speak on many occasions.
For a number of years, millions of people throughout the world considered Roberts a prophet of God, while millions more have believed him to be a charlatan. The biography is divided into eighteen chapters with five major parts. Part I, “The Mold,” covers the beginning of Roberts’s life and ministry from 1918 to 1947. Part II, “Miracles,” chronicles the growth and development of Roberts’s ministry from 1947 to 1960. Part III discusses how Roberts and his ministry moved into the “Mainstream” from 1960 to 1975. Part IV, “Maelstrom,” describes some of the controversies that arose in Roberts’s ministry from 1975 to 1984. And Part V, “Meanings,” draws several conclusions about the message, the man, and the ministry. If you are looking for a theological critique of Oral Roberts’s work and preaching, you will not find it here. While Harrell does not necessarily agree with Roberts, his purpose in this book is simply to tell the story about the man and his family and to note the ways in which his ministry has influenced modern religious history. Such a book is not for everyone, but for those who are interested in learning more about the history of religion in America, it contains some fascinating reading.