If you’ve read my blog in the past, it’s no secret that I have been critical of “Christian Media”. This is something I first wrote almost 10 years ago (insane to think I’ve been blogging that long), only to be further illustrated in my completely unnecessary, ridiculous, and insanely detailed breakdown of a mediocre Christian film. My criticisms of the vast majority of Christian media have largely orbited around a few core issues:
- Overall poor production quality
- Lazy and undynamic filmmaking
- Shameless ripping off more popular films/trends but with a Christian coat of paint
- Storytelling that is centered around appeasing Christians instead of engaging non-Christians and mass audiences
- Preachy to the point that it makes the story feel secondary
So when I first heard of The Chosen, it’s ambitions perked my interest. The idea of creating a multi-season, crowdfunded, and independently produced series on the life and ministry of Jesus is certainly a bold one, and beyond that initial reaction, my interest remained minor. “Why should I care?” I thought, “It’s just going to be like every other Christian film?”
Dead wrong as a matter of fact.
I say the following with my utmost conviction: The Chosen may be the best piece of Christian filmmaking I’ve ever seen, largely because it essentially does the opposite of my five complaints listed above. The production design, sets, costumes, music, direction, and casting are top notch. The filmmaking is dynamic, well executed, and beautifully composed (with one episode opening with a technically masterful nearly 15 minute single take set against the slowly setting sun). Because it is presented in a longer format, the story has more room to breathe, to allow the characters and plotlines to build and bounce off each other, and to show the audience the deep well of truth the Gospel story has to offer. While the story of the Gospel is ultimately about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, it’s also important to show those who knew him best and how their personal encounters with him would eventually change the world.
The biggest strength of the show is how they portray Jesus. For most of film history, Jesus has primarily been presented as an otherworldly, ethereal, pious, and somewhat mysterious figure – speaking almost entirely in scripture, often with a thousand yard stare. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it presents Jesus through a funhouse mirror. We aren’t really being presented with the full picture. The Chosen has taken an entirely different approach to Jesus, and it is one the deeply emphasizes his humanity, and it has honestly shifted my perspective of Christ and deepened my love for him. No other piece of Christian media has ever had that effect on me, and that is not something I say lightly.
In the show, Jesus is presented as how I have often imagined him to be: warm, engaging, compassionate, quick to laugh and quick to show appreciation. He’s charming, yet not manipulative; funny, yet deeply sincere. He is someone who you cannot help but want to be around. He’s fully God, yet he is fully man. A man who has to build his own fire, make his own food, bandage his wounds, sleep on the ground, and sweat out in the hot sun. He makes silly noises and tells stories to entertain children, jokes around with his disciples (when asked by Peter if he could make his brother Andrew become a better dancer, Jesus laughs and replies “There are some things even I cannot do!”), hugs and adores his mother, rebukes James and John in truth yet also takes time to celebrate their strengths, and graciously deals with those who question him or fail to understand where he’s coming from. It’s a beautiful and thought provoking portrayal of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, warts, scars, dirt and all. It’s easily the best depiction of Jesus ever put on film. This desire to humanize the events of the Gospel extends to the disciples and other key figures. Extreme care is put into depicting these people as real with doubts, thoughts, questions, flaws, and strengths, and this makes the show deeply compelling (one scene where Mary talks about Jesus’s birth from her perspective is fascinating and moving). It’s easily one of the show’s most crowning achievements.
The Chosen is the kind of Christian media that I have been starving for, and I honestly believe that the world is starving for. Creator and director Dallas Jenkins says his ultimate goal is for 1 billion people to watch The Chosen. I sincerely believe it is possible. The quality, the funding, and the word of mouth is definitely there, and will only continue to grow.
This is the kind of content that can help those who are lost engage with the Gospels in a dynamic and personal way. Is it a substitute for the Bible? Absolutely not. Is it a gateway for the non-believer to begin asking questions and seeking out deeper truths? Most definitely.
For Christians, I view The Chosen as an almost supplemental material. It is engaging entertainment that creates conversations and encourages deeper study and thought. For me, it finally does what I have felt all good art should do – point you to something deeper, or in this case, someone.
That someone won’t turn away from you.