In Memory of Rod Rosenbladt: Encourager of All Things God, True and Beautiful

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Rod Rosenbladt, the encourager of all things good, true, and beautiful and a tireless warrior for Jesus and the Gospel message, finally rests at the marriage feast of the lamb.

Death is not natural to the God of life, and he certainly did not intend it for his creation. Yet on Friday, February 2, death claimed a scholar, teacher, friend, surrogate father, and warrior of the Gospel. May the Lord Christ return swiftly, resurrecting this universe of death and uniting the choruses of Heaven and Earth within the marriage feast of the Lamb.

I grew up a typical Southern California kid. I played sports, did well enough in high school, and attended youth group at the local Lutheran parish. However, I was never excited about Christianity. Sunday mornings often got in the way of good surf, and high school Bible studies seemed too geared at moral truths that got in the way of fun weekend activities involving friends, beverages, and girls.

Then, by a turn of fate, I became a freshman at Concordia University, Irvine. More than that, I was enrolled in the Director of Christian Education program (DCE - what other traditions might call a youth minister). I was not too keen to finish this program and figured I would transfer schools and/or majors soon. I worked in the DCE office and began to hear stories of a theology professor who cussed in class, spent too much time talking about smoking and alcohol, and had an all-around rotten attitude. These tales piqued my interest.

In my sophomore year, I had Lutheran Confessions with Dr. Rod Rosenbladt. Here was the professor with a mythic reputation in the flesh. Since learning about him while in the DCE office, I caught many glimpses of him sitting at tables, smoking cigarettes, and talking with students. I didn’t dare approach him as “the smart kids” always seemed to demand his time. However, that Confessions class was a turning point for me. Rod made the Lutheran Confessions, including the Catechism which I suffered through in seventh and eighth grade, come alive. I learned how central Article IV is to all Lutheran doctrine and practice and was given an intellectual or philosophical framework not simply to understand Christianity but to love Christianity. Dr. Rosenbladt made it clear that no question was off limits and allowed morality to slip from the central focus, replacing it with the free grace given by a God who continually claims me as his own. This spiritual freedom was invigorating and launched my quest to take as many courses with Rod as possible.

Rod filled every course with an enthusiasm for the Gospel that infected his students to become better readers/interpreters of the Bible. Yet I was an inquisitive young man, and while the freedom of Christ given in the Gospels was invigorating, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. The stories still seemed too unbelievable to be true. Sure, Jesus was probably a bit like Socrates, a great teacher, but God in the flesh — how could this be true? This is why Rod’s apologetics became invaluable to me. The course was a tour de force in reasoning about Christianity that didn’t depend on any internal or private belief commitments. We looked at the truth of the Gospels from an objective intellectual standpoint that could have stood in any university classroom. This is what I needed in my high school days, not moralism, but solid reasons for why I should believe any of these fantastical stories! Rod’s passion for the Confessions is only seconded by his passion for Christian Apologetics, and this class was a wildfire for those of us who thought Christianity needed some intellectual backing (a contentious claim since the founding of the Church).

It was through this class, in particular, that my future profession became a possibility. I remember Rod discussing various topics within apologetics with us when he made an offhand remark: “To do apologetics well, you need to study philosophy as it is the discipline that studies thought, and you will learn how to think like an atheist.” Then he mentioned that Lutheranism is not too keen on philosophy, that you can count on one hand the number of philosophers in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). This turned out to be exactly the nudge I needed. I took his advice and pursued philosophy till the end (literally a terminal degree), coming back to CUI as a professor of philosophy to work side by side with Rod for his remaining career. There was a moment when many of Rod’s former students all taught at the college alongside him, from Theology to Philosophy to History, a mini fellowship that took CUI by storm. 

Rod Rosenbladt, the encourager of all things good, true, and beautiful and a tireless warrior for Jesus and the Gospel message, finally rests at the marriage feast of the lamb. Yet we fight on, giving our captain his final salute, eagerly awaiting the reunion that looks similar to those frequent gatherings on Rod’s back deck. I cannot provide enough thanks on this side of heaven to capture the intellectual and spiritual debt I owe this man. I thank God for my time with him, finding that odd mix of sorrowful joy in the fact that he lives in the resurrection. Come, Lord Jesus.