The Chosen: A Message Of Transformation

Aug 7th, 2021 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

I have never appreciated Hollywood’s depiction of Jesus.  Such movies, usually shown around the Easter season, seem superficial, contrived and lacking in authenticity.  Other than Ben Hur, I have never watched an entire Hollywood movie on the subject of Jesus.  But, there is a new movie series that I find compelling, authentic and stimulating.  It is the [proposed] seven-part series, The Chosen, created, directed and co-written by American filmmaker Dallas Jenkins.  First aired in 2019, it is the highest popularly-funded film project of all time.  “The series’ creators stated that they had hoped to distinguish the new series from previous portrayals of Jesus by crafting a multi-season, episode-based story. The series portrays Jesus “through the eyes of those who met him.” In addition to VidAngel and its own app, the series has aired on several streaming services (e.g., Facebook, YouTube) and cable TV channels.  Jenkins’ intention was not only to dig deeper into the people who encountered Jesus and to see Jesus through the eyes of those who met him, but also to show him in a way that is more “personal, intimate, immediate.”  The opening credits of the first episode state clearly: “The Chosen is based on the true stories of the gospels of Jesus Christ.  Some locations and timelines have been combined or condensed. Backstories and some characters or dialogue have been added.”

How successful has this project been?  By the standards of independent media, The Chosen is a success.  It has garnered more than 50 million fans in 180 countries.  Since it streams free, “the view counter has surpassed 194 million as of this summer.”  Chris DeVille of The Atlantic reports that “On Easter Sunday, 750,000 people tuned in to live-stream the Season 2 premiere.”  Although The Chosen stays faithful to the broad trajectory of the 4 Gospels, it also creates some speculative backstories (e.g., on Mary Magdalene and on Nicodemus). The Chosen’s Jonathan Roumie plays Jesus “as someone you’d actually like to hang out with, projecting divine gravity accented with easygoing warmth. He cracks jokes; he dances at parties. ‘What The Chosen has done well is give us kind of a robust portrait of a highly relatable Jesus that moves beyond some of the holier-than-thou, untouchable, unapproachable portraits of Jesus in the past,’” says Terence Berry, the COO of the Wedgwood Circle, an investment group that finances faith-based media.  “Rather than merely reciting Jesus’s greatest hits, Jenkins and his writers linger with characters in their daily lives—marital and professional conflicts, financial struggles, campfire gatherings. When the audience sees climactic moments from the Gospels, such as Jesus’s miraculous healing of a leper, the events register as disruptions of the status quo.”  Dallas Jenkins: “We’re not trying to contradict the Bible.  We’re just trying to build a show around the Bible and tell stories that we think are compelling.”   As DeVille observes, “Watching The Chosen is no substitute for reading the Bible—a disclaimer at the start of Season 1 even says ‘viewers are encouraged to read the Gospel.’  But by putting another layer of human perspective between its viewers and its source material, The Chosen performs some of the functions of a good Bible teacher, providing cultural context for ancient events and probing viewers to empathize with the characters.”

The Chosen represents what Mark Sayers, the senior leader of Red Church in Melbourne and a co-host of the Christian podcast This Cultural Moment, says is a shift toward a more “networked culture.” Indeed, as Luke Burgis in Christianity Today shows, “Director Dallas Jenkins has raised the bar for the quality of religious-themed entertainment. The show has broken crowdfunding records, raking in $10 million in donations for the first season and attracting $12 million in donations from 125,000 people for the second season, which wrapped up with the season finale on July 11.  But it’s not merely higher-quality filming techniques or the relatability of actor Jonathan Roumie’s portrayal of Jesus that accounts for The Chosen’s power. It comes from its convincing portrayal of each disciple’s transformation of desire. Characters who have small hopes at the beginning of the show evolve into people who want great things. As we watch the disciples change, we are drawn into the mystery of their transformation in Christ.”


For me, the major appeal of The Chosen is its dramatic and powerful presentation of transformation.  Jesus transforms people and The Chosen powerfully presents this vital dynamic of genuine biblical Christianity.  This world has no models that are worth patterning our lives after.  If we wish to be saved from this world of sin and death, we need an otherworldly model—found only in Christ, who is able to transform us from within through His grace.  Burgis:  “We become like the things we imitate. And that’s why Christ not only saves us—he also transforms us.  In the imaginative telling of the ‘backstory’ of the first disciples, The Chosen shows the profound tension between worldly and transcendent desires. The ancient Roman world had shaped the disciples’ desires in certain ways, just as the modern world shapes ours. As Jesus becomes their new and primary model of desire, their thin desires begin to fade away in favor of the transcendent purpose he models.  Three minutes into the first episode of season 1, we meet Mary Magdalene in a time where she is unable to imagine an existence for herself outside of the reality of demonic possession with brief periods of lucidity. What does she desire? Anything that will for a moment relieve her intense suffering: alcohol, even death. After Jesus calls her by name, however, we see Mary gradually come to want other things: to live the Sabbath properly, to be generous and serve others, to learn the Scriptures. She says of herself, ‘I was one way and now I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between was him.’ Jesus has become her new model, and she has begun to want for herself what he wants.  We see Peter’s desires change before our eyes in a similar fashion. What does Peter want when we first meet him? The things his culture has modeled: the overthrow of Roman oppression, the relief of his tax burden, to be a successful fisherman. He’s closed to anything else. When his brother Andrew tries to interest him in Jesus, Peter is initially dismissive, but his encounter with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee changes everything. He has a new model placed before him, and thus the trappings of his old life—his thin desires—start to have less hold on him.”


This is why The Chosen is so appealing, so engaging.  In a creative and imaginative manner, it presents the transformation of ordinary people with their selfish, self-centered passions into people who desire what Jesus desires, who seek what Jesus seeks and who think the way Jesus thinks.  That is what the Gospel is all about—the transformation of human beings into kingdom citizens adhering to the values, virtues and standards of their King.

See Chris DeVille, “Christian America’s Must-See TV Show” (27 June 2021); Luke Burgis, “Why We Love ‘The Chosen’ So Much” (14 July 2021).

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