First sentence: Weekday afternoons when I was a child often found me curled up on the brown, plaid couch in our basement family room, draped in a homely, single-yarn brown afghan, my fingers poking through its open knit.
Premise/plot: Exactly As You Are is a spiritualized biography of Fred Rogers, aka Mister Rogers. After a few chapters about his early life, college years, and first job experiences, the book settles down into exploring Mister Rogers and his neighborhood. From here the book becomes almost topical and each topic is a spiritual one. That is what sets this one apart. I have read several biographies of Fred Rogers. Largely each one has the same exact quotes and uses the same sources. Tuttle seeks a spiritual meaning, moral, lesson, observation in each and every aspect of his life, his relationships, his career.
My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved some chapters. I did. Other chapters were more speculative and seemed agenda-driven. My favorite section was the middle one, “Broadcasting Grace.” My least favorite section was the last one that speculated about Mr. Rogers’ sexuality, his views on sexuality and gender identity, his view on heaven.
I would not change one thing about the television show. I would not make it more “Christian” or more specifically Christian. I would not add explicit theological teachings that would be more appropriate coming from the pulpit than a puppet. Can you imagine what it would be like to see Daniel Tiger asking Lady A if she thinks Lady Elaine is going to go to hell because she's so mean?! That would NOT be good. No, I would not change anything about the show.
But I also would not draw conclusions about the complexity or lack thereof of his belief system based on the scripts of the show or his interviews with the media. Neither outlet would be a good one for presenting a systematic theology.
The book is one person’s understanding of Rogers’ faith.
That being said, I found a few things troubling about his theology. Perhaps the things that make him a great neighbor make him a less ideal evangelist. As the book presents it, Mr. Rogers did not believe in the doctrine of sin. Mr. Rogers believed in man’s innate goodness. He believed in a God that loves us exactly, precisely as we are—whether we are in Christ or out of or apart from Christ. When dying friends allegedly asked Fred if they would go to heaven, he’d say yes, of course, God loves you exactly as you are. Now assuming the person is in Christ, that’s a fine answer, but supposing he or she isn’t that’s a terrible answer and a missed opportunity. One example has Fred saying something like, just think of all the people you’ve made happy with your music. Of course you’ll go to heaven. That logic is absurd!
If Tuttle’s assessment and speculation is correct, then Rogers seems to have some faulty foundations to his theology. Perhaps Tuttle is right. But maybe not. Maybe Fred was just uncomfortable broadcasting the necessity and exclusivity of Christ.
Imagine that one foot is the doctrine that humanity was created in the image of God and that God saw his creation as good, very good. The other foot is the doctrine of sin, the original sin, the fall of mankind, and man’s being enslaved to sin, dead in sin, unable to please God, unable to stand in front of a holy God. You need to stand on both feet if you want to stand. One supports human dignity, human rights, the value of life, a reason for treating others with respect, kindness, and love. The other shows the absolute and total necessity for the gospel, for preaching Christ and only Christ, for the urgency of evangelism. Apart from Christ, we stand forever condemned, separated, enslaved, hell-bound. In Christ we stand forever forgiven, accepted, loved, set free. The Bible clearly teaches both. We are created in God’s image. Even after the fall, human life is valuable, of worth, has meaning. But Genesis 3 happened. We are not sinless, innocent, perfect, sweet and lovable. Sin is real and rotten. It rots us from the inside out, spreads like a cancer, is fatal. There is only one cure, one hope, one Savior. There is eternal life in no other. To stand clothed in Christ’s righteousness is our only hope for judgement day. In Christ is security. To cling to our independence, our own righteousness, our own worth is destruction. One sin condemns. Let alone the totality of all our sin. But God is a great God, a loving and forgiving God. No matter how dark, how many, how monstrous our sins he forgives and forgives completely and forever those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. To be in Christ is to have life.
To stand on one foot and just one foot is foolish. The bad news of sin leads to the amazing, miraculous news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To exclude the doctrine of sin from our thinking, teaching, preaching, is short-sighted “love.” Truth must not ever be divorced from love, genuine love. But the genuine purity of our love cannot be divorced from truth or it loses its purity and genuineness. We must love wholeheartedly, but cling to truth as well. It is not loving to keep the truth to ourselves. If hell is real, if God does in fact hate sin, we should care and care deeply enough to share the gospel, to live out the gospel.