“I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!” ~Buddy the Elf
I.Love.The.Chosen. I’m really late to the party. I know. I initially put The Chosen into the same category as all the other Christian movies I’ve seen over the years. A good message, but terrible acting, a worse script, and no production value. (I won’t mention movie names because I’m only fighting critics of The Chosen today, and want to keep my enemy in front of me, and don’t need a sideways velociraptor attack from some Pure Flix fan out there.) I love the artistic visual medium of moving pictures. Sure, I like to be entertained; but I also love cinematography, soundtracks, clever dialogue, and nuanced acting. The bottom line is, The Chosen is a piece of art. (It’s not perfect, but it’s darn close.)
I think The Chosen’s popularity in the Christian community is actually creating its critics. The Christian books that become New York Times Best Sellers are usually shallow garbage at best. Celebrity pastors tend to dabble in the heretical. And just about any time the Bible is actually the central subject matter in media, it tends to omit, liberalize, and soften any Gospel message whatsoever. The question is, “Is The Chosen guilty of these crimes against Christianity?”
My answer, is a strong “No!” So, what’s the controversy? Why the negativity? I scoured the internet for the biggest critiques of The Chosen from fellow evangelical Christians. Here’s the summaries of what I found, and why I wholeheartedly disagree.
Jesus didn’t say that. Jesus didn’t do that. Yes, there is no doubt that The Chosen is not using the Bible as a script. Even if The Chosen only covered stories explicitly described in the Bible, the director is still going to add dialogue to smooth out the scene; and make decisions like was it day-time or night-time, were they in a cafe tavern or in the woods, or did all the people marvel or just some. They also have to decide tone of voice and body language that can severely swing the meaning of an interaction. Five different directors would direct every scene five different ways. These are not new decisions. Renaissance artwork had to make the same calls. Worship music does the same thing. Even the most scripture-centric song has to alter some words here and there to keep the melody flowing.
Reading reviews online, there’s a lot of people that don’t like that The Chosen adds extra-biblical material. I’ve seen very little that think the extra-biblical content is heretical or that there’s no way Jesus would do that (I’ll deal with the sermon prep controversy later.) They just don’t like that The Chosen adds content at all. Again, you would HAVE to add content to make a TV series about Jesus no matter how close you stuck to the Bible, so the debate is only HOW MUCH do you add. I don’t think there should be a limit. I know it’s weird to say, but Jesus isn’t the main character of The Chosen. His disciples are. Should we allow the real people within the Bible to be depicted in art and film? I think so. People can say, “No,” but I would strongly disagree. The Bible is not just a theology textbook of facts and figures. There are compelling narratives and beautiful poetry to engage and stimulate the mind. If we never attempt to bring that into other mediums other than the written word, we are limiting its impact. Turning any aspect of the Bible into a television series is tricky since true Christians believe the Bible is more than just a book. Rule #1 must be you cannot contradict Scripture. Rule #2 is you can push the envelope with anyone other than Jesus.
I think The Chosen’s decision to focus on the various disciples’ point of view is brilliant. There really isn’t a lot of info on the disciples so it’s easy to not contradict the Bible there, and there’s no major objection to giving Matthew Aspergers or making Thaddeus a stonemason because it doesn’t change the Gospel narrative in any way. But the reason that God inspired 4 different Gospel writers to record the events of Jesus’ life is that each had a perspective that would connect with a different crowd a bit better. Jews will better connect with Matthew, Romans with Mark, and other Gentiles with Luke. John comes in to bring greater clarity on Jesus’ divinity which wasn’t the struggle in the early days of the disciples but God saw the need for future generations. They were all written in Greek so that they’d be understood by most people in that day. As the years transpired, translating the Bible into modern languages that could be better understood by modern audiences became necessary. I think The Chosen is just another language and another artform shining light on the most important person in history – Jesus.
One Potential Problem I’ll Admit – Because The Chosen is so well done and does weave Scriptural truth with artistic license, you could assume something is in the Bible when it’s not. The solution is to read the Bible while watching the show to keep a clear picture of the truth. But I would bet that The Chosen brings an increase to Bible reading and not a diminishment of it.
Jews, Catholics, Mormons, and Other Heretics
Another prominent problem people seem to have on the internet surrounds the people involved in making the series. Now, the showrunner is Dallas Jenkins. Most people don’t have a problem with him directly. (His dad, Jerry Jenkins, wrote the Left Behind series which is kinda funny.) People don’t even seem to have a problem with any of the actual writers on the show. People have a problem with who Jenkins is around. He consults with people that some consider heretical. He consults with Catholics and Jewish Rabbis and it makes some people super uncomfortable. I would go back to the actual product of the show. Is there anything in the show that conflicts with the Protestant, Evangelical view of Christ? There’s been no mention of Mary being sinless. Jesus hasn’t made clay birds come to life, kill them and then resurrect them for practice. He hasn’t called Satan His brother. Jesus hasn’t stated He has also been known as Michael the Archangel. I haven’t even seen a hint of something concerning yet. I think it’s actually really wise to consult with any expert in 1st century Judean culture. I don’t care honestly if they hold to heretical beliefs if they help me bring accuracy to the cultural setting. One of my favorite things about the series is the accuracy to historical nuances. I’ve formally studied the Bible a long time to get all the letters after my name, and if I were to sit and teach you about common sabbatical practices, morning Jewish prayers, and the squabblings between various religious sects; you’d be bored to tears. But because The Chosen weaves all this stuff into the storyline, it just fills into the lush background of this real world they re-created. These consultants are obviously helping Jenkins because nothing in his background would state that he would be an expert in these things. He’s obviously holding tightly to good quality theological teachings about Jesus and gaining what insight he can from some questionable sources.
But the biggest objection in this area I see online is not who his listed consultants are, but on his hypothetical unlisted ones. Here’s the objective truth. The distribution company where you actually watch the show from their app platform is VidAngel. They are… wait for it… a Mormon owned company. (Hate to tell you, if you’ve ever stayed at a Marriott owned hotel, you’ve supported a Mormon owned company.) Then for season 2, after VidAngel saw they had a massive hit on their hands, they used their Mormon leverage to let The Chosen use the Utah-based fake Jewish city that the Church of Latter Day Saints use for their propaganda films. Some people are mortified that The Chosen have chosen to use this free filming location instead of paying millions of dollars to fly to Israel itself or billions to set-up in Orlando and use a backlot at Disney and the Holy Land exhibit. The late great evangelist Billy Sunday when asked why he took a donation from a known prohibition-era mobster from Chicago, he said, “The Devil had that money long enough.” Boom. See ya. I don’t care if Jenkins is using a free filming location offered by the Mormon church. We know the Weinstein company or MGM or Warner Brothers wouldn’t offer anything for free, but if they did, would we say no because they’re godless, hedonistic, leftist, heathens? Nah, who cares.
The concern people have is are the Mormons secretly infiltrating The Chosen and seeding it with extra tribes of Israel living in America or magical salamanders that are telling this whole story to their baby salamanders in a Princes Bride like framing device. Again, I see no evidence of this. I hope Mormons are watching, because what I’ve seen so far, and I believe will continue is that Jesus isn’t just some deity-like figure. He. Is. God. Jesus is Jehovah. And I hope Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses and Christendelphinists and Moonies all watch closely and figure out who Jesus really is.
One Potential Problem I’ll Admit – Because of some scary people circling Dallas Jenkins and the production of The Chosen, we do need to watch vigilantly. We should always analyze everything we watch, but especially when Jesus is a part of the subject matter. We should have critical eyes and ears. And I will delete this post and write a new one on the slow methodical demise of The Chosen. If the final scene of The Chosen has Jesus getting into a spaceship to return home to his planet and tells everyone they too can become gods over their own planet some day, I will say, “Crap. I am so sorry everyone. I did not see that coming.”
Jesus Is Too Human
Ok, last one here. People do not like how human the show has made Jesus. I’ve seen a lot of little hems and haws, but the big hullabaloo is about season 2 episode 5. In fact, Dallas Jenkins made a whole YouTube video answering people’s objections to this episode. In a nutshell, Jesus is rehearsing His sermon before His big Sermon on the Mount. He’s working on His wording, stumbling over His words, and just overall not being perfect and confident. Essentially Jenkins defended the decision by saying Jesus is human and He had to grow in wisdom and stature. The counter argument is the verse in John 12:49 where it says, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” If you are asking me, “If you were the producer would you have written and directed that scene in the exact way it was depicted in The Chosen?” My answer is probably not. I haven’t even really thought about it. But that’s another thing I really like about the show, it’s getting me to think about things like that which I never have. I have thought about A LOT of things when it comes to the Bible. Did Adam have a belly button? What happens to babies in the womb during the rapture? Did a bacteria ever dare infect the Son of God? But I never thought about Jesus doing sermon prep. Is it totally ridiculous to think that He didn’t just speak extemporaneously all the time? Is it reasonable to think He knew what His Father wanted Him to say in general but He wanted to get it just right. We know Jesus prayed regularly, displayed a dependence on His Heavenly Father regularly. He absolutely went through all things that we do as humans, except sin. I think many people today don’t even think about Jesus being actually human. They think of Him like Thor or Superman or Neo or James Bond. He’s just this larger than life figure that’s not really real. I like the way that The Chosen edits scenes with Jesus. In the midst of His conversations, He inevitably looks toward the direction of the camera as we take the place of Mary Magdalene or Nicodemus. Jesus looks at me for a brief moment. He looks into my soul. He sees me.
One Potential Problem I’ll Admit – if they don’t continue to ramp up the divine claims of Jesus. So far so good for sure. Jesus has so far declared Himself God because only God can forgive sins, and yet Jesus forgave a man’s sins. He also said that creation was one of His favorite memories. (Man what a great little Easter egg.) I’m never going to complain how human they make Jesus because He was completely human, as long as they continue to display Jesus as fully God because He’s that too.
I’m sure in the next 5 years of The Chosen, there will be more things to nitpick. I’m sure there will be more things I would have done differently. I’m not saying there’s no chance that things could go off the rails because I’m old enough to remember when Lost was the best thing I ever saw on television and wow did that nosedive. But I’ve seen enough to actually think it’s going to be good. I think Christians should watch it. Not only because we should support truly good content instead of the garbage that is usually shoved in our faces. But I think Christians should watch it because they can be truly edified, encouraged, and challenged. I think it is as good as any sermon I might listen to throughout the week. I think it’s filled with as much Scripture. I think it has as strong of insight and application as most sermons I hear, if not more. Watch it. I get no kick-backs for saying it. I’ve just been encouraged and I think you will be too if you give it a chance.