Skip to content ↓

The Philanthropists: John D. Rockefeller

John D RockefellerJohn Davison Rockefeller was a Christian, an industrialist and a great philanthropist who founded, among other institutions, the University of Chicago and The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now known as Rockefeller University) in New York City.

Born in 1839 to William and Eliza Rockefeller, John was the second of their six children and their oldest son. In contrast to his father, who was known as an unproductive schemer, John gained a great reputation for being an honest, generous Christian.

From his work in the oil industry to his interest in education and science, Rockefeller had a significant, lasting impact on others. In fact, through the trusts and foundations he established, Rockefeller shaped modern philanthropy. Thus, he was the first American worth more than a billion dollars and, when accounting for inflation, many regard him as the richest person who has ever lived.

His Conversion

From the beginning, I was trained to work, to save, and to give.

Though his father was known as a dishonest peddler, he did teach Rockefeller how to earn and keep money. However, it was his mother who taught him to make God central in his life, to pursue integrity, and to give to others. Thus, he once said, “From the beginning, I was trained to work, to save, and to give.”

In 1864, Rockefeller married Laura Spelman and together they had five children. Laura was also a strong Christian and they always made a high priority of worshipping as a family at their local church. His wife was also a wise counselor to Rockefeller. He once commented, “Her judgment was always better than mine. Without her keen advice, I would be a poor man.”

Rockefeller was a conservative Baptist who believed that a strong relationship with God was necessary for honest, meaningful, lasting work. For that reason he always sought to partner with other Christians who shared such views.

His Contributions

As was noted earlier, Rockefeller believed in the importance of generosity. In fact, he tithed ten percent of his first paycheck to his local church and maintained that discipline throughout his life. With his high value on education, Rockefeller helped fund colleges like Spelman College, which was named after his in-laws.

Rockefeller also supported missionary work. In 1905, he gave a grant to the American Baptist Missionaries to help establish Central Philippine University, the first Baptist University in Asia. He also supported Ivy League schools such as Yale, Harvard, and Brown. In 1913, he created the Rockefeller Foundation which gave to public health, medical training, and the arts. This foundation endowed Johns Hopkins and it built the Peking Union Medical College in China.

But he did not merely fund causes. He also invented certain ways of giving that are still used today. For example, he created the conditional grant, which promoted both recurring donations and the opportunity for donors to oversee the mission and value of the organizational recipients.

Rockefeller died of arteriosclerosis in 1937, two months before his 98th birthday. All throughout his life, he knew (in his own words), “God gave me money” and so he embraced John Wesley’s saying, “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” Or, as Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Thus, instead of scheming in business as his father had done, Rockefeller worked hard so that he could earn money so that he could in turn give to others.


  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    Weekend A La Carte (May 25)

    A La Carte: Don’t regret your past—redeem it / Parents, are you raising angry partisans? / You’re gonna lose everything / My husband and I keep fighting over the same thing / What are the “all things” I can do in Christ? / How are we handling generational differences? / Kindle deals / and more.

  • Free Stuff Fridays (Moody Publishers)

    This giveaway is sponsored by Moody Publishers. Attention all Bible scholars, believers in the power of faith, and lovers of the Word! Learn about God’s divine mercy and compassion with our exclusive Bible Study Giveaway. Win the ultimate bible study library including Overflowing Mercies by author and Bible teacher Craig Allen Cooper. This giveaway also…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 24)

    A La Carte: To sit in the threat of loss / The world cannot be gender blind / The missing years / Too much times / Finding freedom in God’s providence / The weighted vest of pastoral ministry / A micro course for pastors / and more.

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 23)

    A La Carte: How a wife entrusts her husband to God / Everyone has their own facts now / A better way to look at missions / The secret of contentment / Hospitality—a command for our joy / Are you barely hanging on? / and more.

  • Redeeming Sex in Marriage

    Redeeming Sex in Marriage

    Surely few things in this world are more mysterious than sex. Surely few things give such clear evidence that there must be more to them than the sum of their parts. On the one level, sex is a simple biological function that exists to populate the earth with human beings. On the other level, it…