Rod Rosenbladt: A Great Storyteller of the Greatest Story Ever Told

Reading Time: 3 mins

One way or another, Rod always found a way to bring whatever story he was telling back to the gospel and God's grace in Christ.

True to Martin Luther's doctrine of vocation, Rod Rosenbladt wore many masks of God throughout his lifetime. For years, thousands heard him over the radio on the White Horse Inn. His students knew him as their professor, father in the faith, and dear friend. He will also be remembered as a brilliant theologian, faithful pastor, and stalwart apologist of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). 

When I remember Rod Rosenbladt, I remember Rod the storyteller. He often claimed he didn't have a single literary or aesthetic bone in his body. I believed all of his stories except for that one. 

I first met Rod at Concordia Irvine. Usually, professors spend the whole first class on the syllabus. Not Rod. "You can show up to class or not. Do the readings or not. Test dates and reading assignments are in the syllabus. You're adults, and I'll treat you that way," he said. And then, he began. He told story after story. Doctrinal stories. Reformation stories. Personal stories. He taught Lutheran theology, philosophy, and apologetics. We read Antony Flew, Sherlock Holmes, and Augustine. Like C.S. Lewis said of his tutor, William Kirkpatrick, Rod's lectures and conversations were red beef and strong beer, not to mention a rip-roaring good time. In the classroom, around a smoke-filled picnic table, or over Lutheran beverages, Rod was a storyteller.

Sometimes, his stories were short quips. "The primary means of evangelism isn't your car bumper." Or, "In the resurrection, I won't be shaped like a pear." 

Other times, they were longer, like his now famous story of his father and the wrecked Buick. One night, while out partying with friends, Rod stuck the long nose of that Buick right into the front headlight of a '57 Ford. Rod always told the ending the best. "We went into the private area of the living room. He asked how I was, and I replied, 'I'm shaking.' He said, 'That's shock. It will be fine.' I was in tears, realizing that what I had done was 'over the top' in anyone's book. He had his arm around my shoulders and said, 'You know what I think you need? I think you need a new car. Go looking this week, see what you can find, and I'll take my lunch hour to come take a look, too.' And that was the end of the whole episode." [1]

Sometimes, his stories were short quips.

One way or another, Rod always found a way to bring whatever story he was telling back to the gospel and God's grace in Christ. His stories were a ray of Christ's grace in the shadowlands.

What made Rod a great storyteller of the greatest story ever told was his singular focus on this fact: the Christian story isn't about you. It's about Jesus for you. As Rod so often said, "Christianity is the story of a one-sided rescue that we didn't ask for, we didn't deserve, and yet God gives it to you anyway in Jesus."

Rod could take a whole semester to tell you this story, or he could tell it to you in a handful of Bible verses. He did this once in a sermon entitled "Christianity in Five Verses." He began with Romans 3:23: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Next was Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin is death." That's the ending our story deserves. But that's not how the story of Christianity ends. The Christian story, Rod reminded us, begins with bad news, but it ends in and continues on with good news. Romans 5:8 was the story Rod loved to tell again and again and again. That God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And just in case we thought this story was something we imagined we had a hand in writing, there's Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Justification is pure, 100%, 200-proof gift. All we contribute to this story is our sin. By his grace, Jesus contributes everything else. 

That's the story of Rod's life: writing, teaching, preaching, and telling the story so that "you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:12-13). In different ways, this was the best story Rod told; in fact, the story Rod always told: "Christ died for sinners, and you qualify. Be of good cheer, son; your sins are forgiven."

And best of all, this story is true. It happened, not once upon a time, but once in human time. In the days of Caesar Augustus, the Son of God became one of us, took our place, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. The Christian story is historical, defendable, beautiful, and comforting. When we find ourselves in the eternal meeting of heaven, the story told will not be an epic poem of all your sins. No. All you'll hear is: "Well done thou good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your master." 

That's the difference between the Christian story and the rest. Stories always come to an end. But not this one. We might think that Rod's death is the end of his story. I assure you, it is not. For Rod, the professor, father in the faith, and friend, the story goes on.

[1] Rod Rosenbladt in Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace by Scott Keith, Irvine: New Reformation Publishing, 2015, p. 66.