Far be it from me to disagree with my old friend Grant Wacker, our leading historian of Pentecostalism, who told WaPo’s Michelle Boorstein:
I’d say if we set aside Billy Graham and Martin Luther King and
Falwell in the sense that their influence was religious but also
political and social, outside them Roberts was the most important
religious figure in the second half of the 20th Century. Just as a
religious figure. And in lots of ways.
The most obvious way was he brought Pentecostalism out of the
backwoods and made it respectable. One cannot imagine the modern day
Pentecostalism without him. He transformed its image, but also its
It’s the respectability thing I wonder about. Roberts’ signal contribution to Pentecostal teaching was the Prosperity Gospel–the idea that turning your life over to Jesus and doing good would make you rich in the things of this world. Adherents of this teaching around the world are legion. But, it seems to me, among the cultured despisers of Pentecostalism–religious and secular alike–it’s as unrespectable as any Holy Roller ever was.