Posted in theology

“The walls are coming down” says Dallas Jenkins of The Chosen. But should they?

By Elizabeth Prata

PODCAST LINK HERE

still from Roumie Instagram video

The television program The Chosen has swept the religious channels and entered the hearts of many. It did so for a lot of reasons. It’s well written. It’s emotional. It’s extremely well made. It [seemingly] presents Jesus in a biblical light and fills in blanks plausibly without being heretical. I enjoyed the first season and said so, offering a few caveats.

Continue reading ““The walls are coming down” says Dallas Jenkins of The Chosen. But should they?”
Posted in theology

Mail Call: What do you think of the TV series The Chosen?

By Elizabeth Prata

I was asked in real life my views on the television series The Chosen, and now an online reader asks. Here is my reply.

The Chosen. End of season 1. The Messiah and disciples walk away from the well, after meeting the woman.

Personally, I have seen all of season 1. I adore The Chosen! Here are reasons why I like it, some cautions, and the 2nd Commandment issue.

The production itself is very close to depicting the real culture of Jesus’ day. The production values are terrific, the series is lush to look at. I’m so happy to have a Christian production that is not embarrassing in its acting, scenery, costumes, or settings! From what I understand, a lot of research and thought went into it.

Where it depicts biblical events, it again for a lot of the screen time, is very close or exactly biblical. They use verses and phrases from the Bible quite often. I have not seen them depict any of the disciples in any way that is contrary to the way they are presented in the Bible (except they made Matthew be on the autism spectrum…why? I dunno). Simon/Peter is impetuous. Andrew is measured. And so on.

Where the Bible doesn’t speak, the narrative is plausible. For example, Nicodemus is portrayed in almost all of season 1. He is shown as compassionate, knowledgeable, but not proud. He is shown to be seeking and open to the miracles of the man he comes to know as Jesus. He is questioning what he knows and doesn’t know. This is plausible because he is seen in John 3 as seeking…he actually was seeking, and it is plausible that he was seeking and questioning before that one night he came to see Jesus.

What I liked about Nicodemus is the show writers vividly depict the tremendous pressure from students and colleagues for Nicodemus to overlook the likelihood of Jesus being the Messiah, the difficulty in shaking off his entire lifestyle and standing in the community for the unknown in following Jesus, and the pleas of his wife to dismiss what he is increasingly coming to believe, so that they can keep their ‘position’. These are all plausible.

No, all this is not in the Bible explicitly but it is generally, and it’s likely it went down that way, given what we do know about Annas and Caiphas and the scribes etc.. Yes, it’s true in one scene that as Nicodemus realized who Jesus was and kneeled before Him, Jesus said ‘You don’t have to do that.’ Jesus accepted worship, He didn’t reject it. That part of the scene was error. What I did like was that Nicodemus took Jesus’ hand, and kissed it, and replied with Psalm 2:2, Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, which was right. I liked that it indicated one place for sure the other Pharisees should have known who Jesus was, or at least should not have ignored scripture in the Old Testament indicating it.

Another character, Mary who was delivered from 7 demons…I loved how they showed her physical and spiritual agony, and the effect of her possession had on the people in her community. It was starkly shown the effect such possession had on the people that loved her as they tried to help her or at least stay out of her way when the demons made her have a fit. The reality of life being demon possessed is startling and different from when you just read it.

It’s emotional. I cry every episode. It’s one thing to read in the Bible about these events, it’s another to see “Jesus” announce to the woman at the well that “I am He”. It’s emotional to see Jesus in Cana standing over the vat of water about to turn it into wine, and realize in his bowed head that he knows this is the beginning of his public ministry, and thus the beginning of the end. This is something that had not occurred to me, but was brought to life by being able to see it depicted. The Chosen doesn’t detract from the Bible nor in my opinion competes with it, but allows us a different accessibility that’s not usually present when reading or hearing, other ways we normally engage with the word of God every day.

So, it’s fairly accurate biblically, as much as a man-made production can be, well-written and produced, and emotional. The latter two are not reasons alone to enjoy something as important as a Bible story, but I have not found anything huge in doctrine to turn me off, knowing and understanding that this is a man-made production interpreting the life of Jesus from the Bible, not a reproduction of the Biblical texts. The emotionality and good production make for pleasant viewing, while I still have my discernment hat on.

Even The Jesus Film, which was solely words from the Bible, nothing filled in, only the Bible as a script, had its detractors due to the 2nd Commandment issue, poor production values, and overall directorial lifelessness. Some people are not happy no matter what the writers do with Biblical material. Ask a KJV-Onlyist.

Concerns:

Mary who was delivered from 7 demons is increasingly shown throughout season 1 in the inner circle. She travels with the men and is shown being very active as almost one of twelve. In fact, she is depicted as initiating the entry of the paralytic through the crowds and up onto the roof. She didn’t. This is not accurate and is an unnecessary change. I hope that the writers don’t bow to pressure to have a woman in a man’s place as this series continues. I’ve only watched season 1. But I do not like Mary’s involvement, which IS a departure from the texts. It’s one thing that may make me abandon the series.

‘Jesus’ talking with the Woman at the Well. This scene/event concludes season 1. Jesus had openly announced Himself as Messiah, saying to her ‘I am He’, (John 4:26).

A few times, a very few, Jesus says things that are not realistic. Simon-Peter is shown to be impulsive, as he actually was, and Jesus and Peter’s wife have a conversation, that “You saw something in Peter before anyone. So did I. That’s what links us.” That is nonsense and something Jesus would never say.

Some critics dislike that Jesus is shown joking or laughing. I have no quarrel with Jesus joking or laughing. He was “fully man”. He was shown in the Bible to be tired, frustrated, hungry, sorrowful … if He is fully man, is it not reasonable to expect he felt the entire gamut of emotions as a man? This would include joy, laughter, happiness. God rejoices in heaven. (Zephaniah 3:17). I have no quarrel with a show depicting Jesus as laughing. He was a man of sorrows, but he was also made like his brothers in ‘every way’ (Hebrews 2:17).

As for the one line that everyone is hollering about, when ‘Jesus’ was joking about Andrew’s inability to dance, the disciples jokingly appealed to Jesus to help him, and Jesus said, ‘There are some things even I cannot do’. It was a joke. Nothing in the remaining context of the entire bulk of all the episodes suggests anything less than Jesus is fully Man-God deity. And remember, Jesus also said He didn’t know the day nor hour of the Second Coming, (Matthew 24:36), and that ‘He GREW in wisdom and stature’.

I am aware of the issues with Dallas Jenkins’ ‘spiritual advisers’- Mormons and Catholics. It says a lot about his discernment to have them on board, or maybe it was a pragmatic or financial decision. I don’t see people decrying Billy Graham who also had Catholics and Jewish rabbis at his Crusades as counselors. Hmmm, crickets on that one! Jenkins’ associations are something to be aware of, putting that nugget in the discernment bucket. I don’t know how much his advisers influenced him but I have not seen anything tremendously disturbing yet. But as with ANY material that isn’t the actual Bible, be discerning and watch and compare.

As far as the critics’ charges that this movie is dangerous in that it causes people to reignite love for scripture or return to church etc, perhaps supplanting actual word of God or using the movie as a substitute, well, devices are used all the time to draw people. VBS, Trunk or Treat, Youth Night pizza parties, Christmas Chorales, movie clips, popular songs, Revival week… churches use various methods all the time to punctuate worship or to draw the drifting. Not all of these methods are good and some are too pragmatic, but just add The Chosen to the pile of ways Christians use material to get the Good News out there. We understand we aren’t to directly worship the Jesus in the movie. We know we aren’t supposed to swap the written word of God for a cinematic experience.

Second Commandment

Yes an actor depicts Jesus but no, I don’t think anyone will bow down to him or worship him. For some, it sears their conscience to view someone portraying Jesus and that is OK, I would not want someone to violate their conscience. For me, it is not an issue. I would not want someone to make me feel seared for having watched a depiction of Jesus. Is it unwise to listen to an audio recording of the Gospel of John, for a human to audibly speak the words that Jesus spoke and us to listen to it? To listen to a voice actor like Max McLean to read Jesus’ words aloud in a podcast devotional? We all have differing levels of quarrel with how far depictions of Jesus go.

Conclusion

I think people and especially parents just need to weigh if they want to watch a show that plausibly fills in gaps where the Bible is silent, and whether they or their kids will absorb it as truth. That could be a danger.

Fads. A lot of times reviews go in fads because people pile on. The outrage against Harry Potter was started by Focus on the Family and since James Dobson had a lot of influence it went far. People piled on, going ‘yeah! yeah, Harry Potter bad!’ without thinking it thru for themselves. Eventually such negativity settles into the culture like cement and it’s hard to shake it. I think the same thing is happening with The Chosen. It is one of the best depictions of Jesus I’ve seen, the material is pretty biblical, there are some quibbles and a few off things as there usually are! but nothing that would warrant people saying ‘it’s heresy!’ like I’ve seen.

Indeed, this is one of the more biblically faithful series I’ve seen, and yet the awful series “The Bible” by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett was actually taught in churches! I’ve heard nothing but crickets from people about that, nor about Noah with Russell Crowe, Exodus: God and Kings by Ridley Scott, and series like The Bible and AD: The Bible Continues etc. They say ‘Ack, it’s just movie/TV! Get over it!” Why the outrage against The Chosen? I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s warranted.

Michelle Lesley has a good review of season 1 that is balanced, (her mini-review of part of season 2 is here) one of the few balanced reviews I’ve seen. Todd Friel of Wretched also reviews it.

I put on my discernment hat and go from there. It’s up to any individual person to determine at what point their conscience would be bothered by what they are viewing. Niggles turn into issues that turn into problems that turn into heresy, and at some point discernment tips over from caution to ‘no-go.’ For most of the movies and television shows about biblical material, I tune out early due to a mounting pile of issues with doctrine. In one or two cases I quit because the production was so poor. With The Chosen, I’m still hanging in and I look forward to season 2, hoping I don’t have to abandon it. As with any material based on the word of God, be discerning and realize in grace and patience and love that for each person their tipping point will vary and some will bail earlier than others.

As with any biblical production, use discernment, pay attention to your conscience, and watch out for the kids if you have any that plan to watch, carefully explaining what is interpretive filler and which part is biblical. But parents should do that anyway!

Enjoy The Chosen for what it is and go on with your summer.