Monday, June 24, 2024

Thoughts on The Chosen

Thoughts on "The Chosen" The Chosen

A dear friend and fellow Christian has been, for some time now, trying to get me to watch the show, "The Chosen." If you're unfamiliar with it, The Chosen is a dramatic series created by Dallas Jenkins depicting the life of Jesus. The show has become very popular and is now in its fourth season. My friend has been a zealous and tenacious evangelist for the show. A conversation rarely passes with him in which The Chosen isn't mentioned or where some interesting scene isn't described. My friend maintains that I will be hooked if I just consent to watch it once. Thus far, I have avoided an entire episode, though I promised to watch one of his choosing before the summer is out.

My friend rightly asks me why I have a problem with the show. That is the strange thing. I can't quite put my finger on what bothers me about it. I haven't watched entire episodes, but I have watched enough clips online to know it isn't for me. My immediate thought is that I don't particularly care for any dramatic depictions of the Bible. Most of them, including Mel Gibson's "The Passion," make me uneasy. And I don't mean that the subject matter makes me uneasy. I mean that the interpolation used to "fill in the gaps of Scripture" and the blatant attempts to manipulate my emotions makes me uncomfortable. After watching a 10-minute talk by Dallas Jenkins on The Chosen app, where he answered some common concerns and myths about the show, I decided to codify my distaste. It boils down to these things: 1) Revivalism, and 2) Gospel Reductionism.

I mean revivalism, in that the show tries to manipulate people's emotions so they come to the place where they will decide to become a Christian. I mean Gospel Reductionism, in that anything that does not fit within the so-called Gospel of "Jesus Loves You" is abandoned.

I know that what I think about this show is not popular. Personally, I don't care if you watch The Chosen or not. These are my reasons for abstaining. Dallas Jenkins' 10-minute video was enough to solidify my position.

The Chosen is designed to affect people emotionally. That should not be surprising. That is part of what art and entertainment generally try to do. It is this effect that the show is going for where Jesus is concerned, just like revival preachers employing Finney's New Measures. They are trying to humanize Jesus; to make him relatable. In the pages of Scripture, we think we get a more sterile Jesus. He is one-dimensional. But the Chosen fills in the gaps. In the show Jesus laughs; Jesus cries; Jesus interacts with His disciples in ways similar to how we interact with our own friends. In short, Jesus becomes more "real." The show affects the viewer emotionally, and the result of that emotional reaction is supposed to be the viewer seeing Jesus less as a character or figure and more as a real person to whom the viewer can relate. Dare I say, a more "authentic" Jesus. In fact, my friend expressed this thought to me directly. That plan is fantastic for a fiction writer trying to create believable, relatable, and more sympathetic characters. However, it is dangerous to the Christian faith when we do this with Jesus. You might even say that we are being led to the conclusion that Jesus is just like us and, therefore, He "gets" us.

Dallas Jenkins said that The Chosen is not a replacement for Scripture. The show is, instead, supposed to drive people who watch it into the study of Scripture. Mr. Jenkins says that, in his experience, this is what has happened. In my experience, however, it has been the opposite. At Bible study, particularly a study of the Gospel accounts, I hear fellow parishioners who watch The Chosen interject things like, "They depict this [verse/verses/story/etc] in such-and-such a way on The Chosen," as though the show is meant to illuminate Holy Scripture. And, whether they realize it or not, that is precisely what is happening to them. Scripture is being informed by the fictional dramatic elements of the show, making Scripture, they wrongly think, more lively, meaningful, and relatable.

As a Missouri Synod Lutheran, it is probably a fair criticism of me to say that I find a Higher Critical Gospel Reductionist under every rock. However, I think that how one views Scripture is essential when one is discussing theology in general and the person and work of Jesus Christ specifically. Dallas Jenkins identifies himself as an Evangelical (no, I'm not accusing him of being a Mormon), but that does not give any clue to how he views Holy Scripture. Does he think that the Bible the divinely inspired inerrant Word of God, or is the Bible a literary creation of man that merely contains the Word of God for us to seek out? From what he has said about his approach to Scripture and the show, I suspect it leans more toward the latter view.

Mr. Jenkins said that he has chosen only to depict what is in the pages of Scripture and not give any sort of interpretation, personal, denominational, or otherwise. Not only is this confusing, it is impossible. It matters greatly who Dallas Jenkins says Jesus is. If he is an Evangelical, he believes that Jesus is God in human flesh, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. This view must necessarily color his portrayal of Jesus, just as an atheist's or agnostic's view that Jesus was simply a good man and moral teacher will inform and influence his portrayal. Just like with Bible translations, all translation is interpretation to some degree. No one is unbiased; no one can be completely neutral. Moreover, complete neutrality is an odd goal for an Evangelical to strive for in recounting the story of Jesus to the world.

Jesus Himself posed this, the most important question: Who do you say that I am? Jesus says that He is the Word made flesh. He is true God and true man at the same time. Jesus says that He and God the Father are one. Jesus says that He came to serve mankind by giving His life as a ransom for many; that He would be crucified and rise from the dead. Scripture, the very Word of God, tells us that Jesus' death was the propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, and the sins of the whole world, and that He will return to judge the living and the dead. Jesus proved that His word was true by the miracles He performed, chief among those being His resurrection. That is a different Jesus from the one presented by theological liberals (higher critics), the LDS, and other non-Christian cults.

Mr. Jenkins' desire to leave aside, as he says, the "traditions of religion" is concerning to me. The traditions to which he refers are the very teachings of God recorded in Holy Scripture. The fact that Christians debate the things that Scripture teaches, and decide questions of fellowship based on those arguments, shows how important doctrine is. Such an approach, one which focuses only on the Gospel narrative and does not explain what is said and done by Jesus and the Apostles, is similar to Gospel Reductionism. Here, it seems the only important thing is how Jesus makes me feel. All questions of "religion," the doctrine that Jesus commanded His Apostles to teach in its entirety, are secondary.

We don't need an emotional experience with Jesus for the Gospel to be true. The Gospel is already true whether we believe it or not. Our feelings are not to be trusted. Jesus is, and we find Him and what He taught in the Bible, in the Lord's Supper, and in Baptism. Similarly, God's Word does not need to be marketed. Men are brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins by the power and working of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God as it is preached, read, meditated upon, and received through water (in Baptism), and bread and wine (in the Supper). God needs no help from us in this regard. Finally, the so-called traditions of religion cannot be ignored in favor of the bare narrative of the Gospel story alone. Jesus commanded His Apostles to teach everything that He commanded; Scripture calls us to watch our lives and our doctrine closely because by it (our scripturally true teachings given to us by Jesus), we shall save ourselves and our hearers. And, to say that one is presenting the story of Jesus without personal bias is naive at best and disingenuous at worst. ###

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