Pat Robertson A Life And Legacy

Pat Robertson  A Life And Legacy

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Book Reviews / Pneuma 33 (2011) 109-169

David Edwin Harrell Jr., Pat Robertson: A Life and Legacy (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerd- mans Publishing Company, 2010). xiv + 442 pp. $29.99 hardback.

Pat Robertson, the path-breaking religious broadcaster, entrepreneur, and minister, has been the subject of numerous biographies. Te most recent, David Edwin Harrell Jr.’s Pat Robertson: A Life and Legacy is a smart and sympathetic examination of one of the most important Christian leaders of the last fifty years.

Harrell begins his study by explaining the significance of his subject. “Te Pat Robertson legacy is defined not by one singularly important contribution, but by the breadth of his interests.” Te broadcaster’s impact on modern politics is, of course, the most well-known. But he was also “a pioneer in the development of the cable television industry, a relentless innovator in religious programming, the founder of a significant humanitarian organiza- tion, a major player in the worldwide Pentecostal/charismatic revival in the developing world, the founder and molder of a well-respected and well-endowed university, and the founder and patron of one of the most successful legal-advocacy organizations in the coun- try. Tis book,” Harrell summarizes, tells “the story of the stunning reach of Pat Robertson’s restless mind and his dogged persistence in bringing his dreams to fruition” (ix-x). To tell this story, Harrell begins with Robertson’s upbringing as the son of a Virginia senator, his early struggles to find a satisfying career, his marriage to his wife Dede, and his conversion to pentecostalism. He then documents Robertson’s move into broadcasting, and shows the enormous profits that he eventually reaped, which in turn funded many of his other passions. Harrell’s analysis of Robertson’s presidential campaign and the rise of the Christian Coalition were excellent. Unlike the negative caricatures of Robertson as a “wacko,” a fascist, or a preacher with a messiah complex, Harrell presents his subject as smart, savvy, and pragmatic (much more so than Jerry Falwell). He and Ralph Reed under- stood the nature of politics, and reached out to build a broad coalition. Surprisingly, Rob- ertson was far more comfortable with George H.W. Bush in the White House than with his son — a point that Harrell never fully explains. Troughout his career, Robertson stead- fastly worked to return the nation to what he perceived as its historic Christian roots. Harrell saves his discussion of some of Robertson’s more controversial positions — sup- port for bloody and corrupt regimes in Africa and Latin America, his singling out of homo- sexuals for particular animosity, and his almost blind support for Israel — for later chapters, which he includes with “gaffes” and media misrepresentations. Harrell seems to believe (and he quotes Ben Kinchlow to make this point) that Robertson’s positions on these issues should neither define nor stain his legacy.

Robertson’s religious views are more complicated than his pragmatic politics. Harrell tries to paint the media mogul as a centrist, in that he stands in the “center” of one of the most significant religious movements in the modern world. He also shows that at some points — such as in response to the shepherding and reconstruction/dominion movements — Robertson is not afraid to draw a line in the sand over issues of orthodoxy. Nevertheless, Robertson has also backed some of the charismatic movement’s more contro- versial ministers and ideas. He has supported televangelists Benny Hinn and Marilyn Hickey among others, and he subscribes to a mild form of the word-faith gospel. Robert- son’s self-identification has also evolved over time. Early in his career, he called himself a

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/157007411X555009


Book Reviews / Pneuma 33 (2011) 109-169


“charismatic,” but after his falling out with the shepherding movement, he began identify- ing himself as an “evangelical.” In recent years, however, he has rejected that label after “a younger collection of evangelical intellectuals at the turn of the century set out to rescue the name ‘evangelical’ from the likes of Pat Robertson” (and George W. Bush) (x). In recent years — as Harrell carefully documents — Robertson has become one of the nation’s most strident critics of Islam. He has assumed the role of a crusader ready to wage war against Islam as a whole — not just its militant extremists. Tere may be room for compromise in domestic politics, but not in the clash of faiths.

Pat Robertson is an excellent, well-documented book. Harrell, who wrote a definitive biography of Oral Roberts decades ago as well as a previous book on Robertson, received unrestricted access to the broadcaster’s personal papers and business records, and he won the cooperation of Robertson (who commented on rough drafts of the manuscript), his family, and his legion of employees. Te author does not gloss over Robertson’s public mistakes and misjudgments, but instead explains why events transpired in the ways that they did. He also cites the views of some of Robertson’s most colorful antagonists. Never- theless, despite Harrell’s experience as a longtime student of American evangelicalism, he offers little original criticism of his subject, choosing not to give readers his own take or insight into Robertson.

At well over four-hundred pages, this is a big book. But it does not feel big enough. Robertson’s life has been so full, and so complicated, that Harrell at times simply chronicled his subject’s diverse interests. He spent little time providing deeper analysis or contextual- izing Robertson within the broader currents of American history. Te book tells us about Pat Robertson; it does not tell us about the United States or the religious movements that created Pat Robertson. Despite these minor criticisms, this engaging study will likely stand as one of the most definitive biographies of Pat Robertson for year to come.

Reviewed by Matthew Avery Sutton

Associate Professor of History

Washington State University, Pullman, Washington


1 Comment

  • Reply June 9, 2023


    On Dr. Pat Robertson’s eulogies:
    By now most Christian in the US have heard the Pat Robertson (b. 1930) died on the 6th of this month. He was a distinguished leader of the worldwide Charismatic Renewal, founding CBN network and Regent University, both epic milestones in the spread of Spirit-filled Christianity. You may have noted how some of the secular media mocked his achievement and highlighted his errors, especially his espousal of the false prophecies regarding Trump’s reelection in 2020. In these presentations the false prophecies “proved” that all he did was a form of fanatical Evangelicalism.
    That a great saint or leader of the Faith falls into false prophecy is not strange or new to the Church, although it surprises Christian who pay little attention to Church history. A relatively recent example of major Christian figure issuing false prophecy is found in the career of David Wilkerson (1931- 2011). He founded Teen Challenge, and was the author of the Cross and the Switchblade, one of the most anointed and influential Christian books in history. But he also issued several false prophecies that could have done serious damage to the budding Charismatic Renewal had they been taken seriously. I discuss this and other issues of false prophecy in my book, America in Danger, Left and Right. Suffice it to say that anyone in Christian leadership position should be warry of issuing prophesies, especially ones that meets one’s hopes, preferences (prejudices) and expectations. Many Christians, like Dr. Robertson, prophesized that Trump would win the 2020 election and serve 8 consecutive years not because they heard from the Holy Spirit, but because they deeply wanted that to be true and mistook their yearnings for the voice of the Spirit. The wave of ridiculous false prophesies that came out of the 2020 election, as in the “Army will arrest and try Biden and Hilary Clinton,” has soiled the believability of true prophecy and added ridicule of the Church, especially in the eyes of unbelievers. Beware.

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