The Chosen: Should Christians watch it?
A production about Jesus actually done well?
I was a little skeptical when I kept hearing rave reviews about The Chosen. Christians have a notoriously bad reputation for making religious films and shows. Low-quality production, bad storytelling, poor acting, overwhelming cheese factor, etc. Not to mention some terrible depictions of Jesus that are profoundly unbiblical. But what feels so unique about The Chosen is that it stands above the rest as a genuinely well-done Christian series about Jesus and his disciples. Brett McCracken gives a thorough analysis on why the show works so well and why many are drawn to it. But that is not reason alone to watch a show about Jesus.
Any show about Jesus (including this one) is on the receiving end of a lot of criticism. When you attempt to produce a show that goes into the backstory of biblical stories, individual encounters, and complex problems, you will use a lot of creative license. Because of this, many believers had not “felt right” about the depiction of Jesus in the show. Things like Matthew’s disease, Jesus’ sense of humor, and other aspects go above and beyond what the scriptures tell us. Additionally, a lot of the dialogues found in scripture are expanded and modernized in a way that feels “off” for those who read more elegant translations.
So, what do we do? I think there is plenty of room for Christian liberty on this issue but I want to provide three concerns that may cause people to not watch the show, in wisdom. Contrasting that, I want to provide three reasons why it is worth watching, in wisdom.
3 concerns about the show
1) The Chosen says more than Scripture does
Some movies and shows have sought to so-closely follow every detail of Scripture (and not say more!) that they feel lifeless, wooden, and inconsistent. The Chosen fights this by taking creative liberties to more fully expand on conversations, relationships, and individuals in the Gospels. This may, and rightfully so, cause Christians some concern. It’s a weighty thing to say, “This is what Matthew was like... This is what Jesus probably said...” when we don’t really know. There is always a tendency to transplant our own modern biases and personal opinions into these things and it is very important to realize that these extra elements are not divinely inspired. Scripture is the only guide and ultimate authority on who Jesus truly is, not a show.
2) The Chosen may change how people read the gospels
Related to the previous concern, we live in a very visual day and age. This means that a show like The Chosen will reach many people that would not necessarily pick up a Bible. But the danger with this is that their understanding of who Jesus and the disciples were may be tainted by the show. It may encourage “reading things into” the gospels that aren’t there or overly-personalizing different elements of the Bible when that is not the scriptural intent. As a pastor friend of mine once said, “Do we get excited about going to the Word as much as we are excited for the next episode to come out? Or have we gotten lazy and apathetic?” Those who brush this concern aside shouldn’t. Art is a powerful thing and we should be careful to allow Scripture to critique the shows we love, not the other way around.
3) The show’s creator has questionable partnerships
Dallas Jenkins seems like a great guy but the more I have read and listened to interviews with him, the more I question his wisdom in certain regards. First of all, Dallas has wanted “different perspectives” when it comes to the episodes. The fact that he consults with a Catholic priest, a Messianic Jewish rabbi, and an evangelical Christian after writing each episode will feel off to many evangelicals that believe the Catholic church does not teach the same gospel. Also, season 2 was filmed in Utah which resulted in a lease agreement with the church of LDS. In an interview, Dallas stated that “we love the same Jesus… I don’t deny we have a lot of theological differences but we love the same Jesus.” This statement further brought concerns to my mind as to the wisdom of Dallas. The Mormon church does not teach or affirm the same gospel. Additionally, LDS teach things radically unbiblical about Jesus (i.e. Brotherhood with Lucifer, his marriage, the denial of the Trinity). The lack of recognition of the inherent differences between the LDS church and orthodox Christianity is troubling, considering he is the creator of a show about Jesus and the gospel.
3 reasons to watch the show
1) The Chosen is truly well-done
As an artist and designer, one of the main reasons I can’t stand most Christian productions is that they are very poorly done. If Christians are to do all things for the glory of God, to the best of their ability, and with joyful passion (Prov. 13:4; Ecc. 9:10; 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17) then Christians should be the best filmmakers, the best actors, the best producers, and the best writers. So, in a broad sense, things that are “good” are things that we should watch and enjoy. In a world of subpar Christian productions, The Chosen is a breath of fresh air. The dialogue is engaging, the pacing thoughtful, the acting exceptional, and the style beautiful. Additionally, in a world with many TV shows, movies, and productions that are not seeking to draw people to Jesus and glorify God, it is a good thing to have a distinctly Christian show that grabs your attention and makes you want more.
2) The Chosen strives for Biblical faithfulness
There have been a few episodes where I didn’t like some of the conversations, decisions, and elements. If I was producing the show, I would have made some different choices. With that said, there is very little I have found to be “unbiblical” in the show. What I mean by that is although the show says more than what Scripture says, I don’t believe it depicts things that go against the Biblical narrative. There has been very little I have thought, “That couldn’t be true.” Although we don’t know, I think the fact that Jesus has a sense of humor is very plausible (and probably accurate). The show aims to hit the mark of Biblical faithfulness in what they are doing and although they make creative decisions that believers will disagree about how “accurate” they are, I believe there is a place for some grace and charity. They are clear to indicate that the show is not inspired and that people should read the Gospels for themselves. Having realistic expectations for shows like this can go a long way. We should point out things that may not be accurate but, in the same way that we sing songs that express thoughts that go beyond explicit biblical statements, we should be asking for Biblical faithfulness, not Biblical exactness.
3) The Chosen seems to be drawing people to Jesus and His Word
Many things claim to be drawing people to Jesus that are not Biblically faithful so this reason alone is not enough. However, testimonials for the show are filled with patterns of people saying that the show made them want to read their Bibles, love Jesus more, tell others about him, study the gospels with others, and even consider following Jesus with their lives. In our Church, one of our small groups has been watching episodes of The Chosen with four Muslim teen boys and talking about Jesus afterward. For those who interact with Muslims, you will learn quickly that they are a very “storied” people. Stories are how they communicate and understand spiritual truths. Having a show like this one has allowed that small group to engage these Muslim guys in a way that has been bearing fruit. Questions are being asked, Bibles are being opened, and Jesus is being talked about.
So, should Christians watch The Chosen?
In short, I believe this is a matter of Christian conscience. I do not believe Christians are being unwise (necessarily) by either watching the show or by passing on it. With that said, I have found it helpful and encouraging amidst the concerns and do believe it is worth watching. But all in all, the gospel will go forward and Christ will be glorified with or without shows like The Chosen. Inasmuch as the show is drawing people to Jesus, I rejoice and believe every Christian should rejoice. But in our conversations about the show (whether as a critic or a fan), may we point to Scripture as the only ultimate authority and may we point to the Jesus it reveals as the only savior for sin and the only hope for life and salvation.