When I was a college student, on those days jam packed with classes, labs, and the stresses of deadlines, I would take a few minutes, towards the latter part of the afternoon, and veg out watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood. It was a few minutes of respite, and Reverend Fred Rogers was always there to bring me down to earth, before I had to run off to the library to read another 100 pages of assignments.
The new movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks, has received a variety of reviews in Christian circles. Rebecca Davis’ review for the American Family Association tells us that “Mister Rogers Movie Gets Mixed Reviews,” noting on the positive side, a candid interview with Fred Rogers’ surviving wife, Joanne, while on the other side, observing that the film has some difficult material, including some mild language, and pointing out that “Everything about the film points to man’s goodness – the goodness of Mister Rogers and the innate goodness in all people – as the foundation for a transformed life. Believers know that type of transformation is contrary to Scripture, yet the faith-based promotion of the film may cause viewers to mistake goodness for the gospel.”
While Davis’ remarks are theologically correct, it bears emphasizing that what made Fred Rogers, Fred Rogers, truly was a profound intimacy with God. In a post-Christian age, where orthodox Christian faith gets sidelined in the culture, we must not underestimate the potential for such a film to carry on Fred Rogers’ work, to “make goodness attractive,” as his wife, Joanne, says.
Ryan Pemberton, in his review for Christianity Today magazine, writes of “The Quiet Liturgy of Fred Rogers,” and observes that “Fred Rogers was a pioneer in recognizing television as a powerful vehicle of formation.” Pemberton reminds us that Rogers did everything he did with radical intentionality, allowing the message of the Gospel to penetrate the viewer’s heart, as opposed to merely appealing to the mind.
The challenge for those of us in the Internet age of the 24-hour news cycle and social media is see if God might raise up a Christian in this generation to realize the potential of these newer forms of media, to spark a spiritual transformation of people in our day. That is something to think and pray about.