A New Eye on Jesus

By Courtney Lott –

Actor Jonathan Roumie portrays Jesus (center-left) in The Chosen, a new crowd-funded, multiseason portrayal of the life of Christ. Photo provided by Vidangel Studios.

I put it off for months; I had been burned too many times.

Call it cynicism. Call it negativity. Call it Christian entertainment PTSD.  Whatever label you use, the result was always the same. In spite of the public accolades from a good chunk of my Facebook friends, as well as a podcaster I respect, I found it difficult to believe them when they praised The Chosen.

Finally, in the middle of our work from home order and in need of something uplifting, I broke down and watched the first episode. The stages of this viewing were as follows: relief – wow, nothing is cringy; shock – the acting, script, and costuming aren’t just not bad, they’re good; to being so astoundingly moved by the end of the episode that I wept into my computer keyboard.

For once, a form of Christian entertainment not only impressed, but grabbed me. I watched the rest of the season quickly after that. The quality never wavered. More tears came, and even laughter. Not pity laughter for someone who’s trying to be funny either. Genuine laughter.

Created by Dallas Jenkins, The Chosen follows Jesus and the people he calls to come after him. Most episodes begin with a scene from the Old Testament, connecting the gospel story to Israel’s history and culture.

The first storyline we encounter is that of Mary Magdalene. We initially see her as a child, afraid of the dark and comforted by her father with words from Isaiah 43:1: “But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’”

In the next scene, however, Mary is an adult. A mess. Covered in straw and blood. This is Mary possessed, a woman so enslaved by demons that even a Pharisee – Nicodemus – is unable to heal her, a woman who has so lost her identity that she isn’t called “Mary,” but instead “Lilith,” the name of the demon inhabiting her.

Mary is not the only character who is lost. We meet Nicodemus, shaken by his inability to cast out her demons; Matthew the tax collector, a traitor to his people and social pariah; and finally, our favorite loudmouth Peter, struggling with his brother Andrew to make ends meet and not lose their livelihood.

As Jesus enters the lives of these men and women, his statement, “Get used to different,” serves as a very different kind of battle cry than what they expected from Messiah. As any consistent student of the Bible knows, rather than freeing Israel with military force, Jesus heals disease, forgives sin, welcomes children.

Perhaps one of the most refreshing things about The Chosen is that it portrays Jesus and his disciples as full of joy. They are often presented as solemn, serious, maybe even a little stoic in our artwork. With the cross in his future, it’s easy to understand why this would be the case. “Man of sorrows,” what a title. Yet we also know that Jesus came to make the most joyful event imaginable possible: the wedding of the Godhead and the Church.

In spite of the suffering Jesus faced, in spite of the cross on which he would die, he was not devoid of joy. Nor did he expect his followers to be.

Another reason The Chosen works so well is that it does not stray from the raw, the ugly, or the vulnerable. In one of the most poignant scenes, Peter speaks with a kind of Psalm-like honesty when he says, out of desperation, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you enjoy yanking us around like goats, and can’t decide whether we’re chosen or not.”

Soon after, Jesus tells Peter to cast his net over the other side of the boat, miraculously providing an abundant catch and choosing this poor fisherman to be one of his disciples.

While Jenkins is very clear in a video interview that The Chosen is a “narrative show, not a documentary [and] not a replacement for Scripture,” he also strives to be historically and scripturally accurate in this representation of the gospel stories.

“We have an obligation to take this seriously,” Jenkins said. “We’re talking about the Son of God here, a show inspired by holy Scripture.”

Jenkins, an evangelical Christian, has a list of principles meant to guide the show. Though they do not demand that everyone involved is a practicing Christian, they do demand that the content is uncompromised. They consult the gospels and experts – including a Messianic Jewish rabbi, Catholic priest, and an evangelical scholar – and seek to ensure that even creative choices are plausible and fit with the character of the people involved.

As the first multi-season show about Jesus, The Chosen is fully crowd-funded. The number-one highest grossing project of its kind of all-time at $10 million. It has been translated into 50 languages with more to come and is completely free to watch on Youtube or via The Chosen app. There is no fee or subscription. 

Courtney Lott is the editorial assistant at Good News. 

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