Andres: Retelling the Gospels

Sep 30, 2019 by

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Earlier this year, the family-friendly streaming service Vidangel and Christian filmmaker Dallas Jenkins made Hollywood history after raising more than $10 million dollars in a crowdfunding campaign to fund the first season of The Chosen, a multiseason streaming television series focused on the life of Jesus.

Carmen Andres

Andres

The project is garnering attention for a number of reasons. In addition to blasting past previous media project crowdfunding records, it represents a new type of crowdfunding, with the 16,000 mostly small-dollar investors actually getting a stake in the project’s profits.

It’s also the first attempt at a multiseason television series about Jesus.

Over the years, television has become the perfect medium for stories with longer dramatic arcs. For series co-writer and director Jenkins, the medium is an opportunity to unpack the story of Jesus and tell it in a fresh way.

In an interview with The Gospel Coalition, Jenkins describes his series as a “binge-watchable show where you can really invest in the characters. . . . Jesus encountered, giving them and their stories fresh life and backstory.”

To do that, the writers fill in the gaps of the biblical accounts with a mixture of “historical data and artistic imagination.”

For example, characters include not only Peter but also his wife, and the series delves into their marriage as well as the pressures faced by oppressed Jewish fishermen in first-century Palestine. Matthew is portrayed with Asperger’s behavior — something, says Jenkins in a Christianity Today article, that isn’t completely out of line for “a numbers and facts guy” who “didn’t mind a job that made him socially unacceptable.”

This approach to retelling historical or biblical stories is nothing new by Hollywood standards, but artistic license is still controversial in some Christian circles.

Jenkins seems to feel that pressure. In The Gospel Coalition interview, he underscores that he has no desire to “mess with Scripture,” and the series’ promotional material emphasizes that biblical scholars and other religious experts regularly give feedback on the scripts and episodes.

Jenkins seems genuinely committed to staying true to the Gospels but telling the story in a fresh way.

I am intrigued by what I’ve seen of the first four episodes (available online at studios.vidangel.com/the-chosen).

In spite of its small budget, the production values and acting are, for the most part, surprisingly good. The character development and writing falter more than I’d like, and the dialogue is sometimes cliché or stilted, but that’s not unheard of for a TV series in its first season. I appreciate the use of contextual historical elements and religious practices and how they craft surprise reveals and plot tensions in a story we know well. There were also moments when I was genuinely moved.

The series isn’t as “gritty” as it claims to be, particularly compared to other historical dramas like Vikings or Rome. And it doesn’t come across as thought- provoking as films like Noah (2014) or Mary Magdalene (2019). But it does feel like Jenkins is breaking new ground in the evangelical entertainment industry. I’d like to stick around to see how well he cultivates it.

The first episode is free, but the next three will cost you at least $30 (which includes DVDs and additional materials). Let’s hope for lower-cost streaming options when the next four episodes become available in November.

Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.


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