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An adaptation of the Gospels worth watching

A scene from The Chosen. (Handout/VidAngel Studios)

Television

An adaptation of the Gospels worth watching

The Chosen is smart and entertaining

If The Chosen is anything to go by, writer/director Dallas Jenkins seems to have inherited the ability of his father, novelist Jerry B. Jenkins, to hook an audience. I’ve seen dozens of Biblical adaptations over the years, and I can count on one hand the number of times I felt I could give one an unqualified recommendation—not just for its spiritual value, but its entertainment value as well. 

An indie production that owes its existence to crowdfunding, The Chosen impresses on both counts. 

It’s important to note the long-form series isn’t a straight retelling of the Gospels, like Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s miniseries. It takes creative license by asking intelligent questions then imagining stories that might answer them.

For example, what might cause a hot-tempered, blue-collar guy like Peter to go fishing at night? He needs to pay off a debt, perhaps. Why is Matthew willing to become a pariah in his community for the sake of a few denarii?  Maybe he has an Asperger’s-like disorder that makes social connections difficult but mathematical calculations easy. 

It’s a fascinating interpretation that dovetails perfectly with what we do know of Matthew’s meticulous nature.

Pastors and Bible teachers frequently remind us that most of the disciples were rough tradesmen. Yet whenever we see a movie or television show about them, they walk through their scenes full of wide-eyed, almost adolescent naiveté. They certainly never seem like the kind of guys to start a bar fight or make crude jokes after a hard day of manual labor. While keeping the language clean, The Chosen nonetheless gives us the apostles we’ve heard about but rarely seen. 

For that matter, it gives us a Jesus we’ve heard about but rarely seen: Rather than the bland, distant mystic, here we have a loving, earthy savior who delights in the company of His followers. 

It’s a dicey prospect: inventing backstories and side plots for Bible characters without undermining the source material. That Jenkins and his team navigate these hazardous waters without wrecking their ship on the rocks of contradiction, as so many big studio and network productions have, is thanks to a deep theological understanding of the New Testament.  The series doesn’t just check off events as they occur chronologically. It uses creative camera shots, flashbacks, and quick references to the Old Testament to make a holistic case for Jesus as the Messiah.

Handout

A scene from The Chosen. (Handout)

None of this is to suggest the show is perfect. Sets and costumes occasionally show evidence of budget constraints. A few of the actors overplay their roles (though it’s near miraculous how good the cast of mostly unknowns are overall). And every once in a while, the script invents dialogue for Jesus that isn’t as careful as it should be. The moment he asks Nicodemus what his heart is telling him is probably the worst offender. Jesus knew better than anyone how deceitful our hearts are, so it’s unlikely he would have asked the Pharisee what he believed in those words.

But this feels more like rare carelessness than intentional mischaracterization, especially since the rest of the scene is so earnest in capturing the spirit of John, Chapter 3. It would take a Pharisaical spirit indeed to impugn the whole over a minor quibble.

The Chosen’s pilot made a fair bit of news a couple of years ago when Jenkins first released it. If you’ve already viewed that, I’d recommend you watch further. While that episode is by no means bad, it’s the weakest of the series, which gets stronger as it goes.

Put simply, The Chosen is one of the most engaging Bible-inspired productions I’ve seen. Surprisingly funny and relatable, we continue watching episode after episode not because we feel obligated to support it as a dutiful Christians, but because it’s compelling and hard to stop.

VidAngel has made The Chosen free for viewing on its streaming platform throughout April, or you can watch it through a free dedicated app on iPhone or Android, as I did. Jenkins does pop up now and then to appeal for contributions to film more episodes. To that I’ll only say that when I was done viewing, I donated, eager to see what he and his team do with season 2.

Comments

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  • JEFF GIBBS
    Posted: Thu, 04/16/2020 06:12 pm

    I was sceptical about this series for the same reasons you mentioned, but absolutely loved it! Good catch about the "What does your heart tell you?" question. Jesus would never have said that. But the rest is so good, I'll forgive this one slip. Almost every episode has a powerful scene with Jesus that brought me to tears. I highly recommend this series. 

  • DG
    Posted: Wed, 04/22/2020 10:31 pm

    Why I Won’t Be Watching “The Chosen”

    Usually when I run across an article like mine, I just turn a blind  eye and look away!  Really!!  I’m smart. I know the difference between entertainment and fact.  One is fantasy, the other reality.  I think I have both feet planted firmly on the ground. 

    I love history and I often imagine what Martin Luther,  Paul, or John Huss  would think if they were sitting in my church, listening to the sermon I just heard.   

    I love fantasy: historic, epic, or technical.  Tolkien, Terry Brooks, and Asimov are ways I can get lost in other worlds and times.  

    However, when it comes to historic Christianity and who Jesus really is, my machinations  must die!  As I stand in the presence of the true Christ as reported by his disciples and Apostles, there is no room for my thoughts to “rule the day”.   I am in a sacred  place, before the God who created me and everything around me. He will not bend to my theories, speculations, or imaginations.  I am not the Holy Spirit who moved in a mysterious way upon the recorders of the New Testament to create “the words breathed by the breath of God” in the language of man.     

    A writer surely understands that what is left out, what is not said, is almost as important as what is being said.  Writers leave out scores of things so that we may focus clearly on the essential things.  So even the gaps in a story have a purpose to set our attention upon that which is the most important.   I cannot, I will not drag so weak and beggarly a tool  as my imagination to chisel  my “clown face” upon something that is sacred, beautiful, and holy.   If that which is mine has no place here, then surely that which is another’s is an intrusion most unfitting.

     There I have said it!  I always squirmed when watching movies that show Jesus, even when he did not say a thing. But “The Chosen” has Jesus saying way too much!  So much so that Jesus is made into a shadow of His former self  and becomes a mere reflection of 21st century sentimentalities.    Remember, Jesus himself said, “ it is out of the heart the mouth speaks”.  Christ who judges what others say demands that we judge Him by what He says. So to put words into His mouth is to change who He is at the very core.

    For these reasons I will not watch “The Chosen”.  For me there are a lot of entertaining  things in which I can correctly amuse myself.   But God is not for my entertainment or amusement.

     

    Darrie Turner

     

  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 09:13 am

    Darrie: I readily understand your sentiments and attitude towards any extra-Biblical depiction of Jesus. It feels like we are somehow messing with God's Word and making Jesus in our own image. 

  • MA
    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 11:36 am

    So beautifully well said.

    4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

    Jesus is God

  • ADONIAO
    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 12:26 pm

    A friend from church suggested that i watch "The Chosen"; the first episode was a little rough to watch, but as fine wine, episode 2-8 gets better and better.  You will never regret watching this series, i guarantee!

  • PS
    Posted: Sat, 04/25/2020 01:35 pm

    Do you have to pay to watch episodes past #1?