The Chosen Faithfully Brings the Gospel to Serial Television
What was it like to encounter Christ in His earthly life? To walk with Him? What would it have been like to stand in a crowded square, straining to catch the words of His preaching? To break bread at a fire with Him early in the morning?
These questions — ones that every Christian ought to enter into — are just a few of those that The Chosen, the first serial television adaptation of the Gospels, takes up in its debut season.
It’s not only the subject that makes The Chosen unique. Director Dallas Jenkins and distributor VidAngel are out to change how audiences watch television. The show can be streamed on Youtube, but it is the free-to-download app, where all eight episodes are housed, that sets The Chosen apart. Its one-app-one-show method gives the show the freedom to remain committed to the Gospel. Jenkins says: “The golden rule of business is ‘he who has the gold makes the rules,’ and for a show like this we want to make our own rules. We want to control the content and have it not be influenced by any outside forces.”
Entirely crowdfunded, the show raised a record-smashing $10 million (Veronica Mars and Mystery Science Theater 3000 raised five apiece). Even now, viewers can donate to “pay it forward” and fund an episode for another audience member. With the first season claiming over 30 million viewers, the second’s bill is nearly footed, and filming has begun. The Chosen is ensuring that the Christian message has a place on modern television.
But the uniquely Christian approach to production and distribution do not lay claim to the heart like the show itself does. The pace — season one only brings us through the first five chapters of John — allows us to enter into life with Christ, as well as the life of Christ. Though episodic like the Gospels, more time is spent on roads of Galilee or in camp than with Christ in the Synagogues. The ordinary life of the narrative is meant to allow audiences “to see Him through the eyes of those who knew him,” the show’s producers write, and it succeeds. The show is a delightful, deeply scriptural, and extended meditation on the clearly and profoundly human person of Jesus.
Of course, to portray the Person of Christ requires one to grapple with how to play a Man who is not merely fully human. The Chosen enters into the divinity of the Son of God with a portrayal of Christ that refuses to erase mystery for the sake of narrative management. In the role, Jonathan Roumie is captivating. He carries himself with reverence, and while Jesus of Nazareth is comfortable and charismatically human, Roumie allows the divinity of Christ to shine through in moments of encounter, healing, and conversion.
One such moment comes in the first episode. Nicodemus — a great pharisaic teacher of Israel — finds himself confronted by something utterly out of his control: Lilith, a young woman possessed by many demons. After Nicodemus’ failed exorcism, Lilith nearly ends her life before finding herself in a local tavern. There, an unknown figure follows her out of the building and into the street. “Mary,” He calls to her, as she hurries away: “Mary of Magdala.” The unknown figure then speaks words of restoration: “Thus says the Lord who created you, and He who formed you: ‘Fear not. For I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). The stunning otherness of this figure who knows everything about Mary makes it clear that this cannot be anyone but Christ. Lilith dies to Mary, who falls into Jesus’ embrace. When, in the following episode, a stunned Nicodemus finds a smiling woman who looks just like the demonic force he had failed to tame, Mary speaks with confidence of what an encounter with Christ means: “I was one way,” she says, “and now I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between was Him. So yes, I will know Him for the rest of my life.” A quiet profundity fills moments like this throughout The Chosen: a recognition of an encounter that leaves one changed.
It is easy to be weary — or wary — of another Christian media project. Perhaps one feels burned by God’s Not Dead or confident that nothing ought to be done after The Passion, but The Chosen is not to be ignored. Its high production value avoids camp or cheesiness and commands attention. Its casting and set feel true to life, and the effort behind the show is deeply ecumenical. An evangelical created and directed the show, and a faithful Catholic portrayed Christ. The producers, additionally, brought Catholic priests, Christian pastors, and Jewish rabbis alike to round-table discussions to ensure that the Scriptural and historical details remained thoughtful and faithful. The show diligently depicts Jesus’ Jewish heritage, but does not shy away from knowing Him as Messiah. While I cannot speak with any authority on how the show will handle the Eucharist, or the institution of Peter (and so the Church), The Chosen has shown itself eager to place the Gospel — not Christian politicking — first.
To enter into The Chosen is to enter into a new encounter with Jesus. It is to allow yourself and your imagination to be immersed in the Incarnation. This show is anything but ordinary, but is that not required for anything that claims to enter into the mystery of God-made-Man?
As Christ quips to his apostles, so too He beckons to us: “get used to different.”
Maggie Garnett is a junior from South Bend, Indiana studying Theology. She’s re-watching The Chosen to avoid her midterms, and crying through every episode. Tell her to do her homework at email@example.com.