No, I will not be watching "The Chosen"
Does this mean I'm not chosen?
You have either seen it or you have heard about it from your dear Christian friends. Some evangelical churches are even using the devotional material written by the director’s wife and will certainly use the accompanied Bible Study curriculum when it comes out. Surely there will be many sipping from their “Chosen” coffee mugs and doing their daily devotions in the trendy, imitation leather-bound “Chosen” journals that will be sold at a Christian retailer near you. Some churches are undoubtedly showing it in their church in place of Bible study, or at least to supplement their Bible study for a cutting edge, Outreach.com type effort. Yes, we are talking about the Vid-Angel-produced series portraying the life of Christ called “The Chosen.” But no, I will not be watching, journaling, studying, or sipping.
So why not? Because of the universalist mindset influencing the content. “What?” you say. Dallas Jenkins, the Producer/Director of “the Chosen,” is the son of Jerry Jenkins, who helped write the “Left Behind” series of books that were popular a few decades ago. What could possibly be wrong here? “Are you saying Dallas Jenkins is a universalist?” No, but Dallas Jenkins is holding a universalist mindset whether he acknowledges it or not.
In a Mormon(LDS) blog interview,1 Jenkins defended not only the Mormon owned Vid-Angel distribution and the filming of “The Chosen” in Utah on an LDS set, but he also defended the idea that Mormons follow the “same Christ” and that there is no significant difference between Mormons and Evangelicals. He further admitted that many LDS people are working on the project and influencing his thinking. Jenkins’ defense against criticism was quite telling. Hear it in his own words:
“So even if you are listening to this right now as an evangelical and are horrified to hear me say some of these things, consider that even if you disagree, even if you think that, ‘No, it's two different Jesus's, and they worship two different Saviors, and what you're saying is wrong.’ Fine, believe what you will. I'm not gonna have these arguments with you…be assured that everyone who's working on this show who happens to be LDS feels the exact same way…I’m going to die on the hill of defending my LDS friends.” “…I’m happy to say, "Yeah, we disagree on some things, but I'm going to die on the hill of, we love the same Jesus, and we want the same Jesus known to the world."
Yes, I’m horrified. Yes, I disagree. Yes, these are two different versions of Jesus! No, I don’t want their version of Jesus known to the world with any connection to the Jesus exclusively revealed in the Scripture. Jenkins being in bible study with many Mormons and praying with Mormons concerning the show, as he describes, is not an evangelical practice; it is not even ecumenical; it is universalist. Evangelicals don’t believe the same things as Mormons at all! For Jenkins to tenderly minimize the differences by saying: “my LDS brothers and sisters who disagree with me on many things theologically, most of which—almost all of which—took place after Jesus was here” is dumbfounding. For a clear distinction between Mormonism and Christianity, go here, and go quickly: (https://www.gotquestions.org/Mormons-Christians.html)
Jenkins’ view of scripture may be what leads him to the false premise for production in the first place, namely that he feels the scripture as we have it is just plain insufficient: “When you read the scriptures, you don't get the emotional connection, backstory, you don't get the historical and cultural context quite as much, and you don't get the human context.“ Yes, we get it. The Bible is just not enough…(sarcasm). No, really… he goes on, “You should read the scriptures, 100 percent, no question about it. But when that's all you do, sometimes you can miss out on the perspective of the cultural and historical surroundings of who Jesus was and what He was doing. And then you kind of miss out on the identification with those who knew Him. You can't fully identify with Jesus…”. Right (sarcasm), he is saying Christ cannot be fully known from reading the Bible. You really need theatrically artistic renderings to bypass your mind to get to your heart. This is a terrifying high view of mediums and an insultingly low view of Divine revelation.
Unsurprisingly, not only is Scripture insufficient in raw form according to Jenkins, Joseph Smith is grinning in his grave as Jenkins “unintentionally” promotes extra-biblical revelation. In the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in episode six, Jenkins said, “many LDS people have said [it] is kind of a commercial for the LDS church.” (Which Jenkins does not correct.) The dialogue goes on to describe the same openness that helps Mormons accept the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price as inspired by God and equal with the Scriptures:
“Nicodemus is the one who's saying, "Yes, those things are true. But what if there's more? I mean, if God had something new to say, and it contradicted what you believed, and you knew it was God saying it, would you question what you believed, or would you just assume that God is now saying something wrong?" He's exploring and he's seeking truth, and Shmuel is making some valid points, but is getting stuck in the rigidity of his religious tradition.”
This of course also bolsters the idea that evangelical “Pharisees” who might criticize Jenkin’s blurring lines are just not as open-minded as this Jesus would demand. Jenkins seems to think these rigid Pharisees need to rework their immobilizing fundamentalism and broaden the tent. It’s often the predictable accusation of the progressive, neo-orthodox, moderate, liberal, ecumenical, or universalist to use the “Pharisee,” “legalist,” “fundamentalist,” or other Christian swear-word to describe anyone stuck in their “simpletonian,” Bible-loving ways. Once labeled, we can dismiss their criticisms out of hand.
No, at some point, the un-biblical influence WILL seep through. So, while there may be emotionally moving and imaginative drama portrayed, and while there may be much overlap with the Biblical account, I can’t endorse the films any more than I can dismiss the subtle or not-so-subtle Mormon influence. No, I won’t even drink from the “Chosen” mug.
In all of this, we really need to ask ourselves, do we get excited about the dialogue and the dramatic presentation of the scripture? Are we moved by the beautiful scores of music and the cinematic art? Or, are we stirred about the reality and content of the actual Scriptures where the infallible God has spoken? Does reading God’s Word feed my soul like drama feeds my emotional appetite?
When God chose to speak he didn’t make a movie. He spoke through the prophets and gave us a written Word. As J.I. Packer said so aptly:
“Even the mighty acts of God are not revelation to man at all, except in so far as they are accompanied by words of God to explain them. Leave man to guess God’s mind and purpose, and he will guess wrong." J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 1958.
Although all of us would enjoy trustworthy re-enactments of the biblical narratives, we need the actual Word of God, and it is actually sufficient.
When the rich man was begging Abraham to allow him to go back to warn his five brothers to avoid the dreadful place of torment, he was not encouraged to point his brothers to binge-watch Netflix or dramas about Christ. “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”Luke 16:29–31 (ESV)
Neither will they be convinced by a well-intended, universalist drama. Sorry, maybe I’m just not “Chosen” enough… but I won’t be watching.
(For the full interview: https://www.ldsliving.com/pages/allin-e90-dallas-jenkins-behind-the-scenes-of-the-chosen) (update: since the article was published the interview was pulled down… thankfully, it is archived on the Wayback Machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20210821001225/https://www.ldsliving.com/pages/allin-e90-dallas-jenkins-behind-the-scenes-of-the-chosen)