Back when he served on the theology faculty of Concordia University Irvine, Rod Rosenbladt would often dismiss himself from a meeting or a conversation if he had to go teach by saying, “Well, I have to go impersonate a professor.” He made the joke often. But it never got old. His subtle laughter, and especially the irony of it always made it funny.
Rod never impersonated anyone. He was the real deal. He was the quintessential professor. If Plato’s world of forms did exist, I’m pretty sure Rod’s long tenure as a professor would correspond closely to its form (or at least as close as a professor who was most definitely not a Platonist could).
Rod’s discipline was theology. What set him apart, though, was his interest in and command of Christian apologetics. He was, like Paul, “appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:16). Apologetics, then, was not just some academic curiosity. It was his vocation, and he believed it was essential to the profession of Christian theology.
Christianity is not a private cult of belief. God’s saving activity—his death for our sins and resurrection for our justification—was not “done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). The gospel is linked to a particular time—when Tiberius Caesar was emperor of Rome, Pontius Pilate the Prefect of Judea, and Joseph Caiaphas High Priest of Jerusalem—and it happened in a particular place—in and around the city of Jerusalem. Any defense of the gospel, then, was necessarily historical.
Rod would come alive when he explained the evidence for the gospel to his students. Following the lead of his own teacher, the eminent John Warwick Montgomery, he would begin with the reliability of the primary documents concerning Jesus’ life and teachings—the canonical Gospels. He would then argue for the deity of Jesus from the evidence of his various claims about himself and his fulfillment of messianic prophecy. The strongest evidence, however, was his command over nature as demonstrated by his miraculous works. “I and the Father are one,” Jesus said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:30, 37-38).
Jesus’ resurrection was, of course, the definitive work (see Acts 1:3, Matt. 12:38-41). This was the focus of Rod’s case for Christianity. And for good reason. The resurrection proved Jesus was who he said he was. There would be no Christianity if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Nor should there be. “If Christ has not been raised,” wrote Paul, “your faith is in vain…your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14-17). And along with Paul, Rod always argued, that “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20).
This is what drove Rod’s theology—that the good news—that Jesus died for sins and rose for the justification of the sinner—is for you and for all people.
The fact of the resurrection fueled Rod’s theology—in the classroom, from the pulpit, and on the “back deck.” It was a fait accompli of history. It was the definitive proof of Christ and his claims. And it is the reason for the hope we have within us (1 Peter 3:15). The fact of the resurrection also means something else. It proves that God had fulfilled the promise he first gave to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15), repeated through the patriarchs and prophets, and accomplished by his Son—that he would crush sin, death, and the devil.
Rod never ceased pointing those around him to this fact. And he was always quick to add that this fact—the fulfillment of the promise—was not just for “sinners like us” as if it was some abstract doctrinal truth. For Rod, it was really and actually for us, for you. It wasn’t just for us though—that is, those who sit in pews or chairs on Sunday morning—but for “the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The promise of salvation was for the non-Christian and the Christian.
This is what drove Rod’s theology—that the good news—that Jesus died for sins and rose for the justification of the sinner—is for you and for all people. Thus, the gospel is for proclamation. It is meant to be declared from the pulpit, spoken to our neighbors, and applied to those closest to us through absolution. And it can and ought to be articulated or defended in an objective way for those who ask us for a reason for our hope.
This singular focus, to me, is Rod’s greatest legacy. He passed it on to his students, his readers, and his radio/podcast audiences. They are countless. (Just the other day, I met a man on, of all places, the mats of a jiu jitsu gym who told me about the influence of Rod on his life—he is a professor of the New Testament at an evangelical college.) The legacy of Rod Rosenbladt has been and will continue to be the mission of 1517.This isn’t just the legacy of Rod Rosenbladt though. It is what it means to be the people of God—the ones God calls, gathers, and enlightens with his gifts—to declare and defend the good news of Christ alone. In a world—and even a church—full of distractions, thank God for Rod Rosenbladt. He pointed us to Jesus and Jesus alone. He equipped us to declare and defend the gospel of Jesus alone. And we thank God that he is now with Jesus, resting from his labors and awaiting that great day when we will all be reunited with all who believed in Christ Jesus alone.