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“The Chosen TV Show,” Used by Permission

There seems to be a debate going on in Christendom and I don’t mean Russell Moore’s scathing letter to SBC president Greear. I’m talking about The Chosen. The #1 crowdfunded television program ever. Written by Dallas Jenkins, scion of Left Behind’s Jerry Jenkins, wowed audiences, secular, and Christian in its first season. It was made all the more accessible when the Chosen app offered all eight episodes for a voluntary “pay it forward” model. The last big Jesus media splash was Bruce Marciano’s brilliant performance in the word-for-word NIV narration of The Gospel of Matthew. There was a ripple or two with a 2003 Word-for-Word Gospel of John. It’s tough playing Jesus or his disciples. As Movieguide said summing up the Gospel of John’s bad reviews (37% on Rotten Tomatoes)

The Gospel of John takes a reverent approach to its story without ever bringing it to life, proving that cribbing from the Good Book isn’t enough to guarantee a good movie.

Amen. The Chosen has had unprecedented success and now that Jenkins has a fully funded season two the celebrity Christian train is pulling into the station. God help us all. Some people have noticed a bit more artistic license from the writers this season. Jesus seems to find his hipness and Jenkins feels more confidence in telling a story about Jesus that cribs from the Gospels and tries to capture the spirit of following Christ but not sticking to the letter of the ancient text.

From the beginning, Jenkins has made clear that he thinks the Chosen is based on the Bible but it’s not cut from the same cloth as previous Gospel films. It’s not a word for word retelling like The Gospel of Matthew. It is a multi-season story about Jesus’ disciples, fit for the Netflix generation. Jenkins makes clear that the writers condense timelines and take poetic license. Further in this video he says that The Chosen is no substitute for Scripture, which I appreciate.

Any Christian creative project that gets the kind of national attention the Chosen has is going to draw scrutiny. Mormons work on the show? Yep. VidAngel the distributor, is owned by Mormons. Season two is shot on an LDS set. Jenkins recently said on a Mormon interview “Our disagreements are about what Jesus did after he came. We worship the same Jesus.” Dallas is wrong that our differences with Mormons are only about what Jesus did after he was crucified. Dallas is wrong that Mormons and Christians worship the same Jesus. In official Mormon teaching Jesus, and in fact all of us, were born on another planet, and came to earth to acquire a physical body and earn our godhood as all gods before us. I’m concerned about this. I don’t know if he’s just motivated by his job situation to reason this way or if he’s just unaware of the official LDS doctrines but it’s a concern.

It’s also not a reason for me to stop watching the show or using it. That would definitely change if Jonathan Roumie pops over to speak with the American Indians at the end of Season two or the angel Moroni shows up. As it is, I personally (MCOI has not taken a position on the Chosen yet) will judge the show on its own merits as Jenkins asks us to do. That’s fair.

Jonathan Roumie is a devout Catholic who prays the Rosary. Atheists work on the show as well.  One of the advisors to the writers is spouting bad theology on Sid Roth’s show. Some of the actors haven’t been to church since Easter? These are all valid concerns. But one concern I keep hearing is that we shouldn’t watch the Chosen because Jesus and the disciples speak and talk way too modern, and the writers add to the story. The depiction of Matthew as on the spectrum from Aspergers to Autism, as some have suggested, is artistic license.

It is historically accurate that as a tax collector Matthew was regarded as a traitor. Creating a storyline which includes Matthew hiring a man to sneak him into the market in an attempt to avoid being accosted for being a traitor is something which could possibly occur. In the episode the man he hires refuses to take him any further into the market than its outer edges. The man calls Matthew a “public anus” a derogatory joke at the expense of the Latin publicanus, for Roman public official.

And you know what? It works. I know I’m not watching the Gospels but I’m watching the world of the Gospels brought to life. Who among us hasn’t tried to explain to Sunday School attenders how radical Jesus was to call a Roman collaborator like Matthew to be His disciple? Who among us, has felt like our students really get it? I don’t know if publicanus’ like Matthew had to sit behind a locked window with a Roman guard. If there is no historical precedent for that, I don’t really care. It gets the point across.

I still get Goosebumps when Roumie says, “Get used to Different.” Jesus didn’t say that. It’s colloquial. It’s modern. and it’s right. That scene conveys a very Biblical point. Jesus’ ministry was radical because of the kind of people he called. That comes through regardless of whether there was a Gaius (Kirk Woller) breathing down his neck. So, quibble about anachronism if you like. (Just be sure to start your nit-picking in the traditional way, by prefacing your corrections with the words “Um Actually . . .” )

Some of the criticism of the show has the worry that people will take the show itself as being the Gospel. Considering that the average Christian sitting in their theater seat in the warehouse-turned-worship service can’t explain Jesus’ divinity without uttering heresies that were condemned in the Council at Nicea, it’s valid. It’s not a reason to condemn the Chosen though. It’s a reason to teach the Bible. I used the Chosen series last year as the opener for a Bible study. We would read the Bible passage first. Noting what is not said and what is emphasized and then we would watch the scene and discuss the Bible passage. I was (and still am) careful to point out what in the scene is poetic license and what is true, in my theological opinion.

I could be wrong but I think some of the concern about the Chosen being biblically accurate is that we have the sneaky suspicion that the average 20-30 something would rather get their Bible understanding from a well-funded tv production than do the challenging work of trying to understand the Bible. But it is not Dallas Jenkins job to make Bible study fun. He’s a creative. His job is to be creative within the bounds of sound theology and his allegiance to Jesus Christ.

Dallas Jenkins is becoming a celebrity Christian whether he wants to or not. This is a trial worthy of us bathing him in prayer. God save us from Christian celebrity status. It has been the downfall of so many. Ravi Zacharias being just the most recent. Pray that Dallas is given all the spiritual strength to stand up to that sort of scrutiny and that he never, ever, starts believing his own press.

And pray he and his team can find a way to speak truth in love. I hope he comes to realize that according to Mormon doctrine, Jesus is the brother of the Satan. The human body of Jesus was the result of the union between the immortal Father and Mary “in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers” as the late Bruce R. McConkie, member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles puts it,1Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, 1966, p 547 This is NOT the Jesus of the Gospels.

So, in sum: Take the show on its own merits. Teach the Bible. Don’t substitute it. Be concerned and pray, especially for Jenkins and his family.Ω

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