The Chosen, directed by Dallas Jenkins, has been dubbed the most successful creative crowd-funding campaign ever by several sources. In fact, due to the popularity of the show, each crowd-funding campaign for the series has consistently increased from the previous campaign, and for good reason. This is a show that honors Scripture, even when it leans on some poetic licensing when filling in the gaps of the events found in the gospels. Although there has been some controversy attached to the show, as a Christian I have found nothing blasphemous in the show itself and applaud all of those who have helped create such a meaningful and successful series. Speaking of the series' success, as an actor I strongly believe that The Chosen has been successful mainly because of two key elements — first, the humanness developed in every character in this series; and second, the high-production quality brought to every episode. The first part of this paper will focus on why I believe the humanity found in each character is critical in connecting with those of us living in the 21st century. The second part of this paper will discuss why high production values are of utmost importance to endeavors in media, especially those created by Christians.
First, on humanity. Being able to relate to the many people we encounter in the four gospels when reading the Bible can be difficult for a few reasons. One is simply because these people lived 2000+ years ago. The other is we don't get to know very much about their lives except for their encounters with Christ. However, Dallas Jenkins and the rest of the creative team allows us to see fully realized human beings by creating backstories for many of these biblical characters. The performing artist in me greatly appreciates how Jenkins and all the performers have brought a humanness to Jesus, the twelve original apostles (including Judas!), the Pharisees and Sadducees, and those people who came to faith in Christ after he performed a miracle ( a special shout-out to the actress who played the woman who bled for twelve years). The Christian in me appreciates this as well, as this series helps the viewer to be able to relate to all of these people on a visceral level. As such, when we return to our Scripture studies after watching even an episode of The Chosen, we can carry that new level of connection to the people of the Bible into our readings. Perhaps most importantly, by seeing the flaws and struggles of these fully-fleshed-out human beings, we are reminded that we need not be anything special to be in relationship with our Savior. We are also reminded that we need not be anything special for God to use us as His instruments. In other words, The Chosen is a reminder that God calls everyday people to do His will and His work, highlighting the truth of Ephesians 2: 10, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
What's more, this series does a wonderful job in bringing a reality to Christ's emotional life. We know from the Bible that Jesus really did experience truthful, human emotions. After all, the shortest Scripture in all of the Bible is John 11:35, "Jesus wept." We also know that Jesus experienced righteous anger as we learn in Matthew 21:12 that He overturned the tables of the sellers in the Temple. lf He experienced utter sadness and righteous anger, it would seem that he also experienced laughter, joy (His friend Lazarus coming out of the grave, anybody?), fear (Jesus praying in the garden and sweating blood, anybody?), and a number of other emotions. For believers, focusing on Jesus' divinity, which of course is important, sometimes takes us away from the fact that just as he was fully-God, he was also fully-man. Not partially man. Not a fraction of a man. Fully-man. In The Chosen, we see a Jesus who laughs with his friends, tells a joke or two, celebrates with splashing in the water, yet who also yearns for mankind to repent. By showing a greater human-side of Jesus than I can ever remember in previous portrayals of Christ, I am reminded that it wasn't just the Son-of-God that went to the cross, but it was also the fully human Son-of-Man that went to the cross, taking my sin and yours upon himself. In this respect, we must remember that He fully experienced the brutality and pain of the cross because He was indeed fully-man. What a joyful thought to know that Christ is with me in my pain because he fully understands pain! How wonderful to know that He is also there with me in my joy, my mourning, my triumphs, and my failures. Jesus is my Lord and Savior, but I must also never forget that He is my brother! Thanks to The Chosen, we are reminded of this amazing truth.
This brings me to the second part of this paper: production quality. Fair warning — stay with me through the first few paragraphs of this section. I promise you that all the discussion points you are about to read will be looped back into The Chosen. Without further ado ...
As a Christian who is also an actor, one of the most demoralizing comments to hear someone say about a project I've worked on is, "For a Christian movie, that's not bad." In full transparency, I have indeed heard those exact words directed at some of my work. Ouch! You see, though coming from a heart full of good intentions, the unintended insinuation being made here is that because the film I was in was made by a group of Christians, it need not be held to the same standards of excellence that we expect from secular art. In other words, what the speaker is truly saying is this, "If that film was from a Hollywood studio, I would have turned it off after just a couple of minutes because it was bad." By the way, this is not me seeking your pity. I whole-heartedly agreed with the inadvertent bad review spoken to me! As Christians, we must not settle for art that is "good enough" for Christian standards. We should aim and feel responsible to create works that are, by secular standards, high-quality. After all, when God created the world, He didn't settle for "good enough." No, He deemed it "good." Why would we as believers aim for anything less?
This consternation in my heart comes from embracing a notion that Madeleine L'Engle speaks about in her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. She muses, "Christian art? Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. If it's bad art, it's bad religion, no matter how pious the subject." (To be sure, the emphasis at the start of this quote is hers). By this she means that if we as Christians are to truly reach others with the gospel through our art, in this case media-arts, then the art of Christians needs to be just as good, if not better, than that of the secular world. I'm assuming that many of us have seen some poorly executed so-called Christian movies, plays, or cartoons (VeggieTales notwithstanding, of course!).
While these may give encouragement to believers, to those people who do not have faith in Jesus, all they see are poorly acted, poorly produced, and poorly scripted forms of art. While in the end it is all about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with these non-believers, we must do what we can to make "good art." By doing so, those who don't know Jesus might actually watch what has been produced simply because of the quality of that production. In that way, we Christians can use well-produced media to plant some seeds in an unbeliever's heart, seeds we trust the Holy Spirit will water.
This takes me back to the late 1990s, when, out of all the Contemporary Christian songs to make the mainstream Billboard 100 was Mercy Me's "I Can Only Imagine." Here was a well-written song that was unashamedly Christian being played all over secular radio. This was not like many other Christian songs that were hoping to crossover into the mainstream. Most of those songs avoided using the name "Jesus" and instead substituted His name with the generic pronoun "You." Such songs just ended up sounding like any other love song already airing on secular radio. In the end, these songs provided nothing new for the listener. In that respect, it was no surprise then that the song that broke through was bold in its proclamation of meeting Jesus after we leave this earth. (To be sure, there is no denying that God had a big hand in this. After all, the first time the song was aired on secular radio was on a Dallas, Texas, shock-jock morning show, which played the song on a dare and as a joke. No doubt God took that moment and used it to reach millions of people). I believe the success of that song is actually because of, rather than in spite of, its boldness and proclamation of Jesus, along with the very evident raw emotion coming through Bart Millard's voice. In other words, just as many songs in the mainstream are popular because of their boldness in proclaiming of living a party life-style, I believe people appreciated the boldness that Mercy Me had in their song. Just as many loved the mainstream grunge music of the day because of the vulnerable emotions evident in the lead singer's voice, people appreciated the vulnerability Bart Millard sang with, being able to feel his joy and celebration of meeting Jesus. High production quality, truth, raw emotion, and vulnerability — this was a song that certainly was "good art," regardless of the subject matter.
Just as there have been written many scraping-your-nails-on-the-chalkboard Christian songs, I've seen many poorly developed Christian films. I get especially irritated by those Christian films that give the false message that once Jesus is in your life, your life will be magically easier to live. Should a non-believer watch such a film and feel called to Jesus, imagine how quickly they might fall away from the faith once they realize Jesus isn't a silver bullet to fix all of our problems. The message in this case should be more along the lines of an interpretation I once read for Luke 1:37, "Faith doesn't make things easier, it makes them possible." As Christians, we need to take care with the messages we are sending to those we want to reach with the Gospel.
At this point, I have to stop myself and be reminded of the charge to "first take the plank out of [my] own eye, and then [I] will see clearly to remove the speck from [my] brother's eye." Matthew 7:5. As I've mentioned before, I've been a part of several "faith-based films." In those films, the producers were aiming for professional-level work that even the secular world would be interested in watching. God forgive us as many of our films had several issues. Either the sound was horrible, the acting (including some of my own earlier work) was sub-par, the editing left something to be desired, the costuming was amateur-level, or a combination of these things. While believers may support such work out of love, when trying to reach non-believers, those non-believers will simply turn off such insufficiently produced movies. Why should they waste two hours on a movie with low production values when there are plenty of quality-produced films at their finger-tips? Sadly, when non-believers do just that, we Christians lose a chance to preach the Gospel to a people that need to hear it. In the end, high production quality matters when it comes to reaching the lost with the power of media.
Thus, bringing us back specifically to The Chosen. Through its use of high-quality writing, acting, lighting, sets, cameras, sound equipment, special effects, and every other area of production, this is a series that is making good art. Whether or not the person watching an episode is a believer or not, judging against secular works, no one will be turning this series off due to low production values. Just as Mercy Me was bold in its pronouncement of Jesus and powerful in its lyrics, The Chosen proudly proclaims Jesus as the Savior of the world and does so through a high-quality written script, based on the four gospels, performed truthfully by first-rate actors and actresses. This incredible series also allows the actors to show truthful, vulnerable emotions, helping viewers to buy into the reality in which these characters are living.
To refer back to L'Engle, she proclaims "[Jesus] was God who told stories." This is indeed true. Jesus reached people through telling stories/parables that were provocative, thought-inducing, and heart-stirring. The Chosen is honoring Christ in His story-telling traditions. May the Holy Spirit use this series to bring many to faith and encourage those of us in the faith to continue in our daily walks with the Lord.
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