Redefining the Liberal Arts

by Roberta Roberts Potts


On that fateful night in 1935 when God first promised to heal Dad of tuberculosis, God also spoke to him, albeit briefly, about someday building God a university. However, there were no details, and particularly no time frame. After all, without a miracle, my father would not have lived long enough anyway.

I was a young girl in the 1960s and cannot claim to know all that was happening in the colleges and universities of that day. I do remember, however, hearing of the terrible unrest within student bodies on so many college campuses in America. I remember seeing news stories of college students actually trying to burn down administration buildings and otherwise deface other campus buildings. And, while there were many Bible schools at the time, the liberal arts universities in this country were almost all secular institutions. Parents had virtually nowhere to send their children for a liberal arts education without the concern that their children would be met at the door either by a non-Christian or, often, anti-Christian faculty.

Take, for example, my oldest brother Ronnie. Ronnie excelled in foreign languages and wanted very much to study languages in college. He chose a university well known for its high standards of scholarship, but oh, what a terrible price he and each of us in our family paid for that choice. Sometimes I feel we continue to suffer for his decision, for he is gone from us now.

Ronnie was so terribly bright and, at that time, his life was so incredibly promising. As he was the son of an evangelist, he grew up immersed in the things of God and in the Bible. Ronnie was well versed in scripture and had an amazingly analytical mind. In comparison to his, I would say that my academic potential was, well, approximately at the kindergarten level, if it reached that high. And yet, at the same time, Ronnie did not see himself on a plane above others.

Hear Roberta Roberts-Potts discuss her memories of her father, the late evangelist Oral Roberts:

I do not know how the faculty at his chosen university learned that Ronnie was the son of a famous preacher, but once they knew, several of his professors delighted in questioning everything he believed—everything which he had been taught at home—and everything that a large part of his world rested upon. At first Ronnie made a valiant effort to counter the comments made to him, in an open classroom, in derogation of Christianity.

And, perhaps these professors sincerely believed it was for “his own good.” Granted, perhaps other young men would have shrugged off the embarrassing and belittling comments which were directed so pointedly at Ronnie, day after day, but not so my brother. I do not know how Dad and Mother learned of Ronnie’s predicament, but once they did, Dad immediately traveled to visit Ronnie in his dormitory. I suspect however that by that time, the damage had already been done.

Ronnie was never the same after that semester. I know what you are thinking. Perhaps Ronnie’s life would have taken a negative turn at that point no matter what, but personally, I doubt it. To me, it is fatuous to assume that the repeated comments of those professors had no affect [sic] on Ronnie’s young, malleable mind.

Consider it for a moment, in terms of our own times. I well remember hearing the remarks of the faculty members at state universities on recent national newscasts. Their views are often scary, in my view. Of course those universities cannot fire these folks because of how most universities define such things as “tenure” and “academic freedom.” At most universities, academic freedom appears to mean that these professors are free to inculcate our children with all kinds of disgusting ideas and viewpoints. Consider the giant investment of time, love, money, and so forth which each parent has made into their children over the course of seventeen or eighteen years. Do you really want to entrust your son or daughter to one of those radical professors?

While Ronnie’s early collegiate experience was certainly not the only factor which influenced my father to commence planning a Christian university in the early 1960s, it greatly influenced the timing and provided an almost indefatigable impetus which burned within Oral Roberts for the remainder of his life.

It was somewhere within this timeframe that Dad heard the voice of God speaking to him:

Build Me a University

Build it on My authority, and on the Holy Spirit.
Raise up your students to hear my voice,
To go where My light is dim, where My voice is heard small,
And My healing power is not known,
Even to the uttermost bounds of the earth.
Their work will exceed yours, and in this I am well pleased.

Excerpted from My Dad, Oral Roberts by Roberta Roberts Potts. Reprinted with permission of Icon Publishing Group.