City of Faith

The idea for this offering is the result of an odd convergence of two things: PYROMANIAC’s (still unfinished) discussion of “Rubber Prophecies” and my own encounter with someone intimately involved with the recovery efforts surrounding Oral Roberts’ failed City of Faith.

In his discussion about the validity of the prophetic word in our day, PYROMANIAC (a.k.a. Phillip Johnson) illustrates his point by citing Mr. Roberts’ attempt to explain away the appearance that the City of Faith had been a terrible miscalculation of hubris or misguided charismania, which had been published in the December 1989 edition of Charisma Magazine [pg. 88]:

God said in my spirit, “I had you build the City of Faith large enough to capture the imagination of the entire world . . . . I did not want this revelation localized in Tulsa, however. . . . “

As clearly in my spirit as I’ve ever heard Him, the Lord gave me an impression. “You and your partners have merged prayer and medicine for the entire world, for the church world and for all generations,” He said. “It is done.”

I then asked [God], “Is that why after eight years you’re having us close the hospital and after 11 years the medical school?

God said, “Yes, the mission has been accomplished in the same way that after the three years of public ministry My Son said on the cross, ‘Father, it is finished.'” [Emphasis added.]

Having grown up in Dallas with most of my family remaining in the greater Oklahoma City area, I am familiar with Oral Roberts and his City of Faith Medical Center. I, too, am familiar with its demise, but since I didn’t/don’t run in ORU circles, I was not aware of the disclaimer cited above.

Before, I had always thought the words of Jesus were at some level an indictment against Mr. Roberts’ efforts at building the City of Faith: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish. (Luke 14:28-30 NIV)’”

The irony that Jesus specifically mentioned a tower was not lost on me, and my previous thoughts that Mr. Roberts had clearly been indicted by Jesus’ warning seemed to be confirmed in the summer of 2005.

Imagine my embarrassment to find out more of this story from an Orthodox Jewish man in Israel. While sitting around a softball field swapping stories about Oklahoma, my acquaintance told me of his “personal audience” with Mr. Roberts. He (my acquaintance) was one of the three major players in land acquisition and management in and around Tulsa during the days of Mr. Roberts’ financial crisis and Mr. Roberts wanted to give him, a Jew – one of God’s chosen people – the first shot at purchasing some of the student housing and various other properties of his financially sinking empire. It isn’t clear whether it was the “chosen people” thing, or that Roberts had been told that this guy would give him a better and fairer offer than the other two companies that was more compelling. Maybe it isn’t even important.

In any case, I got a blow-by-blow retelling of the ghost-town atmosphere and the sadness that hung in the air as the crane lifted and removed the giant praying hands. I was blushing as this Orthodox Jew told of his sadness at seeing this pitiful situation and of seeing “The Giant Oral Roberts” almost groveling before him to be bailed out.

My acquaintance said he left Mr. Roberts’ office with the intention of calculating a bid, but quickly realized that he couldn’t acquire any property from the City of Faith at any price. “Imagine the headlines,” he challenged. Then he laughed while seriously suggesting a possible newspaper headline: “Jew Takes Over City of Faith.” “No way, not at any price!!!”

I guess it’s okay to wipe the blush off my face, now that I know that the City of Faith wasn’t a miscalculated effort at self-promotion, or, perhaps more importantly, the result of false prophecy. Rather, the apparent failure of the City of Faith was comparable to Christ ending his public ministry on Calvary’s cross: Mission accomplished.

And I thought it was hubris to simply embark on the City of Faith project. That pales in comparison with suggesting that its apparently premature demise was similar to Christ’s apparently premature death. In the latter, it’s clear that His work was finished. In the case of the former, let’s just say…I don’t believe the explanation.

It makes me nervous when men say, “God [privately] told me….”

So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:19-21 NASB)


  1. This is fairly written. I do think though that Oral Roberts was a grief stricken man struggling with the deaths of his daughter and son-in-law in a plane crash, the suicide of his son – apparently arising from contacting agent orange in Viet Nam and the deaths of two grandchildren. From that point on he went from being a genuinely good man to one speaking irrationally at best.

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