‘My Legacy Is My Students’
- October 13, 2022
Dr. Rosalie de Rosset started working at Moody Bible Institute in 1969, the same summer of the Woodstock music festival and the first man on the moon. More than half a century later, she has officially retired as professor of Literature, English, and Homiletics—leaving a fan club that spans generations of students and their alumni parents, six Moody presidents, and seismic cultural shifts in America.
Not one to overestimate her influence, Rosie (as she calls herself) has said that her post-retirement legacy might last all of five and a half minutes. Yet she is immortalized for her witty and articulate teaching in courses like Violence and Grace in the Novel (exploring the theology of suffering) and Forbidden Knowledge as it Leads to the Monstrous in the Novel (affectionately called “Monster Lit”).
“Dr. de Rosset is a legend on campus,” Jonah Swenson ’22 says.
Upon her retirement, she received a spiral-bound book titled “For all that you have done, and all that you are, thank you.” Page after page of single-spaced tributes pay homage to the beloved professor.
David Buresh ’84 remembers sitting in Crowell Hall 40 years ago and hanging on every word as Rosie taught English 101. “I felt the Holy Spirit working in my mind and intellect through her teaching, something that I can only say about a handful of experiences in my 60 years. Thank you, Dr. de Rosset!”
Sarah (Chambers) Ormeo ’06, who served as her teaching assistant for two years, wrote, “You pushed us to be better. A poor student you encouraged to become good. A good student you pushed to be great! A great student you challenged to be excellent. You want us to become the best version of ourselves.”
Dr. Rosalie de Rosset taught at Moody Bible Institute for 53 years before retiring in May 2022.
‘I absolutely fell in love with it’
Rosie’s distinguished career began not as a teacher but as a scriptwriter for Moody Radio—a “divine accident,” she says.
“I got hired in radio with no resume whatsoever, nothing particularly brilliant in my background as a writer,” she says. “This was back during live radio. So I wrote enough scripts on joy, love, and peace to choke a horse and did what was called continuity writing, which was the links between programs.”
Rosie was 22 and in her second year in radio when Moody hired her to teach English to seven students who had lost their teacher to illness. “And I absolutely fell in love with it,” she says.
In fall 1971, she was assigned two courses to teach and directed to get her master’s degree. She taught by day while earning her master’s in English at night.
Rosie’s love for literature was nurtured on the mission field of Peru, where she grew up with church-planting parents and three siblings. “We were so poor that we had lawn chairs in our living room,” she says. “But we had books—gobs and gobs of books.”
The books were gifts from her grandfather, an itinerant preacher, pastor, and missionary. Rosie’s mom read the classics aloud—David Copperfield, Little Women, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, and her favorite, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which Rosie would later teach at Moody.
Rosie was promoted to full-time special instructor at Moody in 1974.
In 1974 Rosie was promoted to a full-time special instructor. She taught English, creative writing, then branched into Communications—courses on writing for radio and TV, newspapers, and feature writing. In 1982 she earned her MDiv at Trinity International Divinity School, which was “profoundly life-changing,” she says. “It made me understand holiness and value it. I wept so often. All the books of the great theologians on sin and salvation still ring sweetly in my life.”
She completed her PhD in Language, Literacy, and Rhetoric from the University of Illinois-Chicago, graduating on her birthday, May 7, 1995.
Over the years, Rosie frequently spoke on Moody Radio's Midday Connection Book Club and Chris Fabry Live, edited books for Moody Publishers, and did the Q&A section of Today in the Word. She had speaking opportunities at churches, college chapels, and conferences as far away as New Zealand. (“I did a sermon series and spoke 21 times in 17 days,” she recalls.)
She also wrote a book, Unseduced and Unshaken (Moody Publishers, 2012), about the role of dignity and purity in a woman’s choices. Her first chapter refers to the main character in the classic novel Jane Eyre, who is described as a “formidable, self-possessed woman of fully realized moral sensibility”—someone not unlike Rosie, an outspoken but dignified single Christian woman.
In this interview, Rosie discusses lessons learned, the essence of Christian biblical education, and advice for the next generation.
What lessons have you learned over the last 53 years as a professor?
The absolute importance of living a life that is consistent with what you say, something honestly that took me a while. Also, the crucial quality of teachability with your students. That does not mean you are their equal; it means you must listen to what they say and change when necessary.
What have you changed, thanks to your students?
For me, my tone. I’ve had to moderate tremendously in the last 20 years. You can still be decisive because they love it. One can’t alter completely one’s sense of conviction, especially in a culture that’s gone awry. You need to say what you believe is right, while at the same time knowing how to moderate so that you reach those who need it most.
Can you give examples of tough topics you’ve discussed with students?
The failure of the church to be fresh in its language. The death knell that technology unguarded and addictively used can sound in their lives. The failures of institutions to hold the line on things that are going to matter. The awareness of sloth, settling for less than the best. The firm understanding that every choice marks a life. I deal with these things through articles, discussions, and novels. You combine sloth with technology and you’ve got lazy and dead souls, a sort of giving up of hope.
What do you do about the soul-deadening effect of sloth and technology?
I’ve done 11 years of media fasts. I have 251 pages of collected findings that could be a book if I ever have the energy to do it. I started with a media fast for my freshmen in College English. Now for a few years it’s been 48 hours for all classes. That means everything; that means no music, no internet, no calling their parents, no use of cell phones.
Two of Dr. de Rosset's former students visit her in her office. Rosie is beloved by former and current students.
What advice do you want to leave for the next generation of Christians?
Do not be caught up in the cultural buzz, causes, and words of the day without going to the gospel first. That, and maintain a holy life. A holy life matters to God. A holy life means that you do not think more highly of yourself than you ought. Ambition is a dark thing. I’ve seen ambition everywhere. I hardly ever see a humble person.
What have you tried to teach students that’s uniquely or distinctively Christian?
To understand that there’s absolutely no facet of life that doesn’t belong to Christ. Nothing, not what you wear, not what you say, not what you do in your leisure. I don’t think I cared about everything the right way either when I started teaching. I was young and distracted, trying to answer my own prayers. But eventually I was able to face the life God had given me, which was far from conventional. All I ever wanted to do was marry and have children. I had no ambitions to a career. But I’m not in any way restless anymore. I really believe I have the life that God gave me within my limitations.
What do you consider the essence of biblical Christian education?
You can’t divorce any discipline from the arts. So I think every theology class would be a better class for including a novel, just as I teach theology in my literature classes, and I can’t help but address it constantly. Even in English classes, you have to wed the content to life. What you teach cannot resort to bromides, predictable Christian cliché, or even unadorned biblical thoughts.
How did you teach students to preach in a way that “makes people’s souls stand on tiptoe,” as you say?
Well, they have to read literature. Of course the students preach, and I discuss the technical particularities of proposition and outline. But crucial is that they make a familiar text fresh, make it come alive. That includes illustration, application, and the magic of language well used.
Nobody’s going to listen to you say one more time what they have heard from the pulpit so many times they want to stand up in the auditorium and say, “You think you could perk that up a little? I’ve heard it in just that way 40,000 times, and it’s not changing anyone.” Only the Holy Spirit can change us. But He can use language.
What have you learned from your time at Moody?
It taught me that institutions are far from perfect. And so am I. And patience is hard won, that you have to endure even when you disagree. And that finally, God has a say over who stays and goes—and what happens in the end.
Is there anything else that you still need to do? Any gift you haven’t really cultivated?
No, except for more writing. On the other hand, I don’t feel like I’ve been cheated out of anything. That’s one of the reasons it was hard to retire. I’m not retiring to something. I still have to figure that out, although I’m still teaching part-time at Moody in the fall.
How do you want to be remembered?
I have a reputation for being really demanding. But then people see that I’m reasonable. I think my students know I care about them. My legacy is my students.
If I am remembered, I hope it will be because I touched some in a way that led them to use their minds and lives for Christ. I hope I am remembered as someone who loved Jesus and others and who sought to live a principled Christian life more resolutely in each succeeding decade.