The Chosen and Criticism: What is Wrong with You People?
My subtitle is a quote from R.C. Sproul that went viral. It applies to many things nowadays.
I don't know if I would call myself a fan of THE CHOSEN, but I admire what Dallas Jenkins is trying to do, artistically and evangelistically. I suppose if I were a real fan I would donate some money; perhaps I will, to put some money where my mouth is (or my blog writing).
However, I have noticed there are a number of YouTubers and bloggers and vloggers who, (clears throat ironically), take issue with what Dallas is doing. They make the following arguments (from what I can tell):
1. the project is ecumenical in the wrong way (i.e., he had help/connections with Mormons, Catholics, Jews, and other such);
2. the actors and crew are not all Christian believers;
3. the portrayal of Jesus (the fact he is portrayed at all, the way he is portrayed, and the actor who does so);
4. interpretations of certain Biblical issues or narratives; 5. the costs and marketing.
To tick these off on one hand: Dallas himself has dealt repeatedly with the Mormon issue; he used their sets in Texas because they were authentic-looking, and really, filming in Israel would be impossible. All filmmakers have to use sets that are not the real places; paying the Mormons for theirs seems at least equal in stewardship to paying a secular organization or building their own.
Second, there simply are not enough credible actors and filmmakers who are evangelicals to complete this project . The Chosen works because of the quality of the production and the actors, as well as the writing. The same people who would have issue with his using non-believing actors and crew would be the same who criticize Christian filmmaking in general for being lame and hokey. The fact that he could work with nonbelievers and they would be involved speaks well of what Dallas is doing.
#3, well, that's going to be fraught with problems and debates no matter what. Was Jim Caviezel a better-looking Jesus? Sure. But this Jesus portrayal is not about the passion (yet), but about his everyday living and interacting with THE CHOSEN, i.e., the disciples and women of the gospels. Anyone who is going to watch a movie or TV show about Jesus is going to have issues. This Jesus actor is taller than those around him. His hair and beard look scruffy. He's not much to look at (pretty homely, actually). He doesn't wear a white robe and blue sash, but a homespun robe of a working man. He looks Mediterranean, or is made to look so (no King of Kings blondie here). He laughs and makes jokes. He respects Jewish (Mosaic) law, until it comes to wrong interpretations of it. He keeps his cool, until confronted with demons or untruth, and then only enough anger to be understood and authoritative.
Which brings us to the fourth argument. I can't say I agree with all Dallas Jenkins' choices; I've written about that elsewhere. But 95% plus of them I do, and probably more. Along with being correct, they resonate emotionally. And I will refer you to the last episode out (Season 3, Episode 3) for proof that he gets it right. The scene is from Luke 4, when Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah and announces his Messiahship. His mother, friends, and disciples can't help but be horrified. He is taken by the synagogue members to the cliff outside Capernaum to be executed.
The scripture says (Luke 4:30), "Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way." Luke doesn't explain this, and it seems to say some kind of miracle happened in that he disappeared, became a mist, or they could no longer see him. In episode 3 Jesus says, "This will not happen today," and walks through the crowd in full sight, implying the crowd will lead to his death at some point but he is in control of when. Looking toward his death and the future of everyone's death was the overall theme of the episode, which includes his relationship as a child with Joseph (who is portrayed as North African, interestingly).
I found this one of the best episodes, very moving, and very clear on the teaching of Luke 4, the reaction it aroused, and the resolution. The New Testament is not written like modern fiction or screenwriting; it is not meant to be, of course. The struggle, and the beauty, of THE CHOSEN is that the narrative's inherent drama has been re-formed into modern screen storytelling. It works almost always. It is faithful to the facts and the spirit of the gospel narrative almost always. It is honoring of Christ and respectful of the Jewish culture more than almost always.
As to the last argument, and perhaps in general, the critics do not understand filmmaking. They do not understand the costs, for one. I can see an episode costing a million dollars or more, overall. I am not a filmmaker but oversee a major in film, have been on a set, and sat through film classes. A ten-second segment can take all day to film. Dallas's critics just don't get it, don't get the scale and scope of a film in general much less a multi-year project, don't get the art and struggle and intricacies and tedium of filmmaking. I think they tend to engage in "nut picking," a new form of criticism like cherry-picking except that they look only for minor flaws. It's a logical fallacy, straw man.
The irony is that these critics will watch lots of secular TV and movies and think nothing of it.
The leader of the college I attended used to say "Critics are a dime a dozen." I disagree with that robustly because it is an excuse not to listen to critics and it diminishing people in general (no one is a dime a dozen).
However, it is far easier to criticize than create. Someone sitting in their home office with a camera and microphone and making home-made videos for YouTube to take pot shots at someone trying to make art that honors God is not in a position to have equal say with someone actually creating. Even more, the narrative of Jesus is going all over the world. D. L. Moody was criticized for his evangelistic methods, and someone responded "I like the way he spreads the gospel better than the way his critics don't do it."