By Scott Keith –
Saturday night I attended the retirement party for Dr. Rod Rosenbladt (Ph.D., Strasbourg). Rod was a Professor of Theology at Concordia University Irvine from 1984 to 2015, and is well-known to Lutheran, Reformed, and Evangelical Christians as the co-host of the nationally syndicated radio program “The White Horse Inn.” More than that, he is my mentor and friend. He is the man that taught me about grace and graciousness, as well as the value of learning, knowledge, and scholarship.
I began the culmination of my undergraduate studies at Concordia University Irvine in 1995. It was at Concordia that I first met Rod, a somewhat eccentric man, who in many ways changed my life. At the time, I was a theology student, and my next three years were full of classes taught by this peculiar theology professor. From his lips, I learned all things religious, theological, philosophical, ethical, and even political.
Furthermore, what I noticed was that if I paid close attention, Rod was also teaching me explicitly and implicitly about how to be a man; a gracious man. Rod has a knack for teaching his students about grace and graciousness surreptitiously. Thus what I learned from him about being a man, being a dad, and being a friend, was as much from his actions as from his words.
One of those actions came on a hot summer day in July 1997. During the year, I worked as Rod’s teaching assistant (TA), which provided us some supplementary income to buy groceries, diapers, and the like. Receiving no TA money during the summer meant that, for us, summer in Southern California was no fun at all, just hot and depressing. But on that day in July, I got a call from Rod asking me to come over and to bring my wife, Joy, and our two small boys so that they could go for a swim.
When we arrived at his house, he politely pointed Joy and the boys toward the pool and told them to have fun. I stayed behind to talk with Rod. We drank coffee, talked about what we were both working on, and basically shot the breeze for about an hour. When he somehow sensed that Joy and the boys were on their way back, he quietly slipped upstairs for a few minutes. When he came down, he had an envelope in his hand and gave it to me, simply saying, “I know summers are hard for you.” I didn’t even look in the envelope; as tears welled in my eyes, I just hugged him and thanked him. Soon after, Joy and the boys arrived back at the house, and we all said our good-byes and headed to the car and back to the university. When we got home, I looked in the envelope and found five crisp $100 bills. That gift and his grace changed our world that summer. Rod had stepped in when all seemed lost to us and made things, at least for the moment, OK. That’s what Rod tends to do.
There are many more stories that I, and several others, could tell of Rod that would illustrate his graciousness. Events like the one listed above have caused many of us to refer to him as “Dad Rod.” During his 30 years at Concordia, he has mentored countless men, and a few women as well. He has trained them, and sent them on, theologically prepared to be teachers, DCEs, pastors, and even professors. He has taught them to be kind, gracious, and zealous defenders of the truth that is Christ.
He specialized in sending his brightest students on to doctoral programs which would prepare them to, in some way, do what he does. In fact, no fewer than 9 men, who now teach at Concordia, were sent by Dad Rod on to graduate programs which prepared them to be professors of theology, history, and philosophy. I was lucky enough to have been one of those men.
During the heyday of his career at Concordia, Rod would invite some of his students, as well as family and other friends, back to his house on Saturday nights to hang out on his back deck. The “back deck,” and Rod’s house generally, was a place that was safe. It was where we all could get together and drink a little, smoke a little, and talk a lot. No conversation was off of the table and asking questions and even arguing a little was always encouraged. It was safe because Rod was there; his quiet gracious demeanor and masculinity ensured that it was safe.
Last night we attempted to duplicate the back deck one more time, hoping to make a safe place for Rod as we showed him our gratefulness for all that he has done for us. Many years (or “seasons” as Jeff Mallinson likes to say) of the back deck were on deck last night. It was simply glorious! We smoked a little, drank a little, and talked a lot. Some were missing––notably, our friends Charlie Mallie and Ed Killian were missed––and I hope they know they were in our thoughts and are in our prayers. But many who I have not seen in a long time were there. Thank you David Anderson and Erin Rosenbladt for travelling so far!
In 2014 he helped launch 1517 The Legacy Project, a non-profit initiative built, in part, upon his work, the work of Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, and Martin Luther. Recently, 1517 has adopted various projects which were also started by Rod’s students, bringing them into the fold of 1517 the Legacy Project. The Jagged Word is one of the projects. Paul Koch, Cindy Koch, and Bob Hiller were students of Rod. In fact, Cindy Koch served as Rod’s TA for a year after I left Concordia in 1998. The most recent addition of authors in The Jagged Word are former students of Rod as well. Dr. Jeff Mallinson and Dr. Daniel van Voorhis of Virtue in the Wasteland fame were both students of Rod. And of course, my son, Caleb Keith had Rod for several classes over the course of the past two years.
Needless to say, though Rod is leaving Concordia, our goal is that the importance of his work and who he his will live on through the projects he supports through 1517 the Legacy Project. We will miss Dad Rod when he points his car north, but we thank him for leaving behind such a lively legacy. Though words are not enough; thank you Dad Rod!
Special thanks to: 1) Joy Keith for putting on such a wonderful night; 2) Kurt and Debi Winrich for providing the means; 3) Faith Lutheran Church, Capo Beach for providing the venue; and 4) Ted Rosenbladt and Steve Lownes for spending 2 days smoking the meat. Great job all around!