The Chosen, a crowd-funded series depicting the ministry of Jesus, particularly by focusing upon the twelve disciples, has been a smashing success. Given its success and that I am a pastor, the question “What do you think about The Chosen?” is common one. While I have intended to share some of my thoughts for some time, I have been waiting until I have seen at least a single episode. However, with no TV or internet at my home (by choice, not circumstance) and two daughters who never have enough playtime with Dad, the prospects of making time to watch an episode are quite bleak for the foreseeable future.
Recently, however, I realized that my lack of knowledge about The Chosen might be for the best when sharing some of my thoughts, since I would be forced to address the actual premise of portraying Jesus on film without being able to get lost in particulars about production quality and the biblical accuracy of particular moments. Indeed, while I have heard that both quality and accuracy of The Chosen are high, I will allow others to address them. Instead, let us consider here the potential benefits and dangers of depicting Jesus and events of scripture in film.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit is simply that it brings thoughts and discussions of Jesus more prominently before individuals, families, and society as a whole. Indeed, with the fragmented ratings of secular television and streaming, production companies should consider the formidable number of people who desire religious and wholesome entertainment. Of course, they are not doing so because Hollywood is increasingly taking the place of former Christian films that emphasized evangelism to the neglect of quality, only their religion is now wokeism. Entertainment has long been devoid of many productions that value Christ and the Bible, so it certainly is encouraging to see The Chosen succeed so well.
Piggybacking upon that benefit is the pathway The Chosen has made for other productions. Angel Studios, the company responsible for The Chosen, is now producing other series, such as The Tuttle Twins, The Wingfeather Saga, and The Riot and the Dance. That last one is what I am most excited for. The Riot and the Dance was originally a series of nature documentary films that happily explore how creation reflects the Creator. The two films (Earth and Water) are excellent. Now they are producing a series with Angel Studios through the investing-model that The Chosen started. If for no other reason, I am extremely thankful for the success of The Chosen because it has led to these other productions.
There are, of course, potential dangers for depicting Jesus in film, and to keep things balanced, I will discuss two of them. First, for those who hold that visual depictions of Jesus are violations of the Second Commandment, watching The Chosen would obviously be against their conscience and, therefore, sinful. Second, even those of us to do not believe such depictions to be inherently sinful, we should still carefully weigh the effects that such depictions might yield.
In his fascinating commentary The Pentateuch as Narrative, John Sailhamer makes a simple yet deeply profound point about history and the text of Scripture. He notes that we should take care not to confuse the text and event when discussing Scripture. Take, for example, the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus. That event really happened by the mighty hand of God to real people in real history. And that event was recorded in written words by Moses through the inspiration of the Spirit for God’s people throughout history. Which is God’s Word, the event itself or the text that records the event? The text, rather than the event, is Scripture. Yet that is not how we often actually act. Sailhamer notes:
Evangelical biblical scholars have not always been clear on this point. Although holding to a view of Scripture as God’s revelation, they have tended to interpret the formula “revelation in history” in such a way that the term ‘history’ refers not to the text of Scripture but rather to the past events themselves. In other words, the locus of revelation is taken to lie not in the text of Scripture but in the events witnessed by the text. In such an approach the events lying behind the text of Scripture are read as salvation history within which God makes known his will to humanity.
Though subtle, the distinction is real. The effect of overlooking the text of Scripture in favor of a focus on the events of Israel’s history can often be a “biblical” theology that is little more than a philosophy of history, an exegetical method that is set on expounding the meaning of the events lying behind Scripture rather than those depicted in Scripture itself.
In other words, by focusing upon the events that Scripture describes rather than Scripture itself, we can subtly treat Scripture as our primary source of many for understanding God’s special revelation to humanity rather than viewing Scripture as God’s special revelation to humanity.
Of course, Sailhamer did not deny that historical studies have no place in aiding us to better understand the text of Scripture. They certainly do! He simply warned that such historical studies should support our focus upon the text itself, not the other way around.
What, you may be asking, does this have to do with The Chosen?
Perhaps the greatest danger of The Chosen, as well as any extrabiblical depiction of the Bible (both visual and textual) is that it can serve to perpetuate what Sailhamer warned against. Viewing such a presentation of Jesus outside the text of Scripture has a subtle way of drawing us into considering what Jesus was really like.
And that’s the very problem.
Scripture itself gives us what Jesus was really like, and we need no further revelation. Yet stories like The Chosen often reveal that, in our hearts, Scripture is not enough for us. We want more.
Indeed, this thought exercise might help to make my point a bit clearer. Ask yourself this question, and answer it honestly: if you were able to view actual recordings of the events in the Bible, would you still need the Bible, or because you could watch and listen to the events themselves, would you have a better revelation of God than the Scriptures?
Of course, we will never have such recordings, yet the exercise hopefully sheds light on how often we are discontent with the content of Scripture. Many feel that The Chosen has deepened their walk with the Lord because they believe that it has taken them deeper than Scripture. They can better envision Jesus as He really was, imagining what it would have been like to really follow Him.
One of my favorite passages from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is when he wrote: “I raise no objection to television’s junk. The best things on television are its junk, and no one and nothing is seriously threatened by it. Besides, we do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant. Therein is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations” (16). He goes on in the book to argue why that is the case, presenting why visual media are simply inferior to textual media for presenting and analyzing information and arguments.
While I am most certainly not calling The Chosen junk, I would apply the general idea of Postman contextually here. I am most concerned about those Christians who take The Chosen the most seriously.
Again, The Chosen appears to be well-produced entertainment and I have heard from many that it is quite faithful to Scripture. Personally, I most rejoice in the upcoming productions that The Chosen’s success has facilitated; however, as with any extrabiblical depiction of Scripture, we must take great care that we do not treat it as a scriptural supplement, as if the Bible alone were not sufficient.
Christians who understand the limits of visual media and who are rooted firmly in the text of Scripture, who are watching The Chosen simply to be entertained, are, I believe, under the least danger of being negatively impacted by the series.
However, those who watch the series devotionally, who view the series (likely unconsciously) as a supplement to Scripture, should turn off the screen and open their Bible.