Rod Rosenbladt was many things to many people. He was a friend, father, consoler, and co-host, to name a few. As a former student, teaching assistant, and then colleague at Concordia University, Irvine, I would like to reflect on Rod’s impact in the classroom (and beyond).
It was 1998, and I was a college dropout. I had collected six units over a year at a junior college (Theatre and Public Speaking) and figured myself forever outside the walls of academia. I was working at Irvine Presbyterian Church with the youth group, and one of the leaders asked if I might stay in theology or become a pastor. “Probably not,” was my answer, but he suggested the school up the road, hidden in the hills of Turtle Rock: Concordia (formerly Christ College).
I had spent most of my life in Irvine and never knew this school existed. But I put two and two together and realized that a man who often came to our youth group to speak on a Wednesday night was the same guy I heard from time to time on the White Horse Inn radio program and taught at that hidden college. His name was, of course, Rod Rosenbladt.
I decided to give it a try. Within a decade, and thanks to Rod, I was the Chair of the History department and colleague to the man who not only spoke at my youth group but had become my teacher, role model in the classroom, and mentor.
Stories abound about Rod in the classroom, from his mannerisms to his aphorisms. I was a one-time holder of the fabled book of such aphorisms handed down through generations of students: the Book of First Rod. This was an actual book, but Rod asked that it never be made digital, so maybe it’s still out there somewhere. Rather than reflect on those elements that entertained us and kept us engaged, I’d like to remember a few things he taught me about faith and life through his classes.
Everything is Bibliography
Rod’s office was wall-to-wall books. There was no desk, just a small square table in the middle of the room. His lifelong project was creating annotated bibliographies and outlines of Christian classics with the help of his students. I’ve never met a smarter man who was also so willing to defer to the authors of the books on the subject. “I’m not sure, but you’d go to Augustine on that one and then to his best biographer, Peter Brown,” was the kind of reply you’d get to so many answers. And invariably, once I showed myself a decent student and then a colleague, his question was,“What’s the best book on that?” Rod called himself an “epigone,” like a worker bee that took the stuff from one place to the next. And he taught us great wisdom and humility in doing so.
I’ve never met a smarter man who was also so willing to defer to the authors of the books on the subject.
Get Outside Of Your Own Walls
I first heard Rod when he took time on a Wednesday night to speak to the youth at Irvine Presbyterian. Why on earth would he spend time with a handful of kids? Because our Youth Pastor asked him, and Rod relished the opportunity to talk about Reformation theology with anybody. Not to caricature Lutherans, but I lived my entire life in a city with a Lutheran college and had never heard of them. Some Lutherans can stay a little bit insular. Not Rod. Following John Warwick Montgomery’s example, he would teach charismatics at Melody Land, have a meal with kids from Calvary Chapel, and if you had a non-Christian friend you wanted to evangelize, Rod was your guy. He was rooted in his own tradition but gracious with others when they wanted to learn about his faith or their own.
Put the Best Possible Construction On Everyone
He took this from Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment, but he also lived it out in the classroom. For instance, Rod was, to put it mildly, “not a fan” of the Christian Mystics, but if we wanted to know about them, we had to read them. He wasn’t content with someone telling you about another tradition but wanted you to hear the argument from them yourself. He didn’t want to build a straw man, and so in conjunction with his love of all things bibliography, he directed you to the best books with the best arguments so that you could better understand other traditions.I am where I am today (from Concordia to 1517) because of Rod. My podcast, the Christian History Almanac, is a daily testament to his teachings about bibliography and about other traditions and letting them speak for themselves. I will sorely miss my teacher, but I will see him as he would say, “on the other side of the eschaton,” where he is, to quote him, “leaping into heaven, like a calf leaping out of his stall, laughing and laughing as if it’s all too good to be true.”