Christmas with The Chosen is a different kind of Christian film project.
Typically, there are two kinds of movies or TV shows based on the Bible.
One is a word-for-word, rigid representation of what happens in the text. These films are normally done with a relatively low budget, the acting may leave something to be desired, and the story comes across as two-dimensional.
The second type is produced by Hollywood. While the budget is normally higher and the acting is decent, it is generally unfaithful to the Bible and often has little regard for plausibility or accuracy.
One movie that broke these stereotypes was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The movie did intone a mystical otherworldliness, yet it was done brilliantly and realistically. Everything seemed historically plausible and faithful to the text.
It was also a deeply moving watching experience for me in my walk.
The Chosen TV series is in that rare third category of faithful biblical representations that tell a compelling story. It consistently moves me to tears with its powerful emotions and displays of Christ’s humility.
Its movie-length Christmas special includes worship sets from singers like Phil Wickham, For King & Country, Maverick City Music, and the One Voice Children’s Choir. The film’s actors tell the culminating story of Christ’s birth, and it ends in a retelling of Christ’s birth in The Chosen’s down-to-earth style.
When Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers was released in theaters, it returned $13.5 million, beating out several secular movies on its opening weekend, even with its limited release.
“The Chosen” is faithful and excellent
Dallas Jenkins, the director and co-writer of the show, regularly shares on social media, interviews, and in public speeches about the goals of The Chosen and their careful preparations for writing the script.
One of their missions is “to introduce the authentic Jesus to a billion people.”
That word comes up a lot in their ministry: authentic. They forgo stiff, rigid repetitions of the gospels word for word. Instead, they show the people as they might have really been, while still being faithful to God’s word. Jesus cracks jokes and even dances!
They strive to be accurate to the biblical texts and cultural, historical context. Much of the show actually doesn’t directly come from the gospels, which allows the viewer to build attachments to its lifelike characters, filling in the gaps between the Bible’s snapshots of Jesus’ miracles and teachings.
For instance, the show follows the disciple Peter before Jesus calls him (something we get no details on in the gospels). Peter gets into debt that he cannot pay, in part because of his gambling addiction. He is far behind on his taxes to the Roman government. So, in desperation, he starts fishing on the Sabbath and even agrees to rat out merchants to the Romans.
At this breaking point, when Peter is about to be arrested for avoiding taxation, Jesus’ miracle of the fish takes on a whole new depth.
The disciple Matthew is portrayed as on the Autistic spectrum. Clearly, this was not explicitly stated in the Bible, but such a real-life description seems plausible given his status as a Jewish tax collector.
In another moment of authenticity, Jesus is shown rehearsing the Sermon on the Mount, pacing, memorizing, and even choosing the right wording, allowing the viewer to see the human side of Jesus in a profound new way.
The film shows the disciples bickering and arguing, confused, excited, sad, doubtful, in every range of human emotion, and then shows how Jesus loves them. Jesus gets tired, sad, angry, and yet, in it all, never sins.
The show not only does an excellent job of connecting you to the characters, but it is also higher budgeted, well-directed, well-written, and well-acted.
It truly does accomplish Jenkins’ goal of a “binge-worthy show.”
The theology of “The Chosen”
Jenkins has explained the writing process for The Chosen in various interviews.
First, they consult the gospel. Then, they pray as Jenkins and his cowriters begin writing the script, returning to humility over and over. Finally, it’s then run by scholarly consultants to ensure as much “biblical, cultural and historical accuracy as possible.”
The show is not “formally” connected to any religion or denomination, though Jenkins himself is an evangelical. Actors and people working on the sets range from agnostic and atheist to evangelical believers. Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus, is Roman Catholic.
As Jenkins says, “the show is about a Jewish man and his Jewish followers, so I’m going to stick to their stories.”
The crawl at the beginning of the first episode clarifies that the show “is based on the true stories of the gospels of Jesus Christ” and is designed to “support the truth and intention of the Scriptures. Viewers are encouraged to read the gospels.”
Countless viewers have replied that the show has encouraged them to read the Bible more, not less.
“God does impossible math”
Jenkins wants everyone to be more inspired to read the Word of God. He believes the Bible is inspired by God, has his undergraduate degree in Bible, and is trained in Hollywood film. In fact, he’s the son of Jerry Jenkins, who cowrote the Left Behind series.
He didn’t want to film Christian movies at first. Eventually, he secured funding for his breakout movie, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. It received mediocre ratings, and, due to many factors, it barely broke even at the box office.
At this point, Jenkins’ career was at its lowest point. He had “no future” in his words. The night after his first film flopped, he was writing a memo of every way he had contributed to its failure.
Suddenly, he received a Facebook message at 4:00 a.m. from someone he barely knew who lived in Romania: “Remember, it’s not YOUR job to feed the 5,000. Your job is to bring the loaves and fish.” The sender then told Jenkins that God had prompted him to send those words.
This message changed Jenkins’ life. Eventually, through twists and turns, he was led to start The Chosen. During that process, his wife also heard from God: “God does impossible math.”
In the film industry, no one crowdfunds for films. It’s unheard of. But, that was the only way forward. So, they decided to try to crowdfund The Chosen.
Jenkins said he felt like he would be lucky if they raised eight hundred dollars.
They ended up raising $10 million for the first season, shattering the previous film fundraising record.
In total, they’ve raised nearly $40 million. This means they can provide The Chosen for free on their app to anyone who wants to stream it.
The Chosen team makes extremely generous decisions since their goal is not to make money but to share Jesus with a billion people. For instance, although they took first place in the box office with their unorthodox Christmas special, they made it available for free on YouTube.
Indeed, “God does impossible math.”
Christian media shouldn’t be bad
The Chosen provides an example of God working in a creative project. He reaches people through the skillful hands of a talented director, excellent writers, and an amazing cast.
Why is it that Christians are known for their bad movies? It doesn’t have to be this way.
Why is it that many representations of Christ are devoid of real life? Christ really lived as a man.
The culture won’t listen in the area of the arts and music if we cannot approach the fields with excellence.
Whatever we do, believers ought to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossian 3:23).
Brothers and sisters, if you are gifted by God in this way, delve into creativity with vigor in praise of God.
Francis Schaeffer writes in Art and the Bible, “A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.”
And that’s where many Christians falter: they consider art only as a means to an end instead of something beautiful for God’s glory. Let us create something excellent, like Bezalel, who was empowered in good craftsmanship and skill by the Spirit to create the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1–6).
Jenkins faithfully provided the loaves and fishes, and God continues to multiply.
Where do you need to provide loaves and fishes?