Joy on a Mission: A Review of “The Chosen”

Why does The Chosen make me feel like I’ve never met Jesus before? I believe the answer is simple: it gives Deity a human face. Jonathan Roumie’s remarkable portrayal of Jesus reaches out to us, as if he was a real person we want to meet. While other actors may find it daunting to embrace the humanity of Jesus, Roumie combines salvific intentionality with humor. This is Joy on a mission. 

And that can be scary for those of us who worship a Jesus made in our image. With this series, no longer can we hide behind our own personal Jesus, one who is safely trapped between our ears.

Indeed, since the genesis of the film industry, why has it been so difficult representing Jesus as a human? Most filmic Christs tend to be stoic and lofty, almost removed from the human condition. Why? 

I think it’s because Christian film productions tend to err on the side of reverence. Maybe we find it too risky to humanize our Lord. Maybe we’re afraid of misrepresenting him.

When faced with humanizing Jesus, those in the fearful camp would do well to quote Peter: “Far be it from you, Lord!” (Matt. 16:22)

Translation: “We shall not make you human!” 

Like Peter, we may wish to keep our ideas of reverence higher than he whom we revere, forgetting that in Jesus’ body the “fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19).

So where does that put the Christian filmmaker today? Is it possible to evoke the humanity of our Lord without profaning him?

In this respect, The Chosen is overdue.

It’s not a well-known project, but the show is gaining momentum. In fact, in 2019, it became the largest crowd-funded media project, having received 10 million in donations for Season 1 (with a few million already received for Season 2).

One major difference (and there are many) between this Jesus project and the conventional ones before it is the focus on the people that Jesus impacted, whether for good or ill. In doing this, each portrayal, developed on their own, bolster the image of Jesus when he comes on the scene.

With the cinematic trend for long-form storytelling well underway, Dallas Jenkins, the show’s director, seeks to make eight seasons. This amount of time to develop these characters will ensure audience captivation in the years to come.

Season 1 clearly establishes the series’ patient pace, for we only follow the lives of a few disciples. These highlighted disciples include, among a few others, Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, Matthew the Tax Collector, and the “Sons of Thunder,” James and John. As these disciples wrestle with various circumstances, we grow to care for them. A particularly wonderful surprise is Episode 3, where Jesus engages with a group of children before he officially begins his ministry. His attitude towards the kids forms a unique precursor for the events ahead.

The dialogue is superb, combining contemporary resonance with just the right amount of historical verisimilitude. There is no need to read subtitles, in other words. It makes it easier to bridge the bi-millennia gap that stands between us and the First Century.

The performances keep us engaged without giving our eyes permission to roll. Especially profound is the portrayal of Nicodemus, played by Erick Avari. The show’s representation of the famous Pharisee illustrates the true cost of following the Nazareth Rabbi.

And as every storyteller knows, no story is complete without a well-rounded antagonist. The antagonists in The Chosen are both well-developed and well-cast. When we witness them in their element, we understand why they would wish to snuff out the message of Jesus.

As far as historical accuracy, there are a few anachronistic liberties (such as a bar-like scene), but the Biblical basis for the show is sound. Jenkins consults with a Rabbi, Priest and Evangelical scholar for historical accuracy (their full roundtable discussions can be found on the DVD). That being said, the creators make it clear that the project is not meant to be a substitute for Scripture. It’s meant to enrich the familiar Gospel narratives.

All in all, The Chosen provides wholesome entertainment. In fact, I’d call it devotional. For when I read the Bible now, the text comes alive like never before. And it’s not because I can now visualize the actors’ faces to match with their Biblical counterparts. Instead, it’s because The Chosen has done the hard work of showing the Bible as real, which enables me to imagine Scripture with new dynamism.

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