When “The Chosen” is a Mirror for the Church.

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 3 of The Chosen tv show. Season 2, Episode 4 is now available on The Chosen App and TheChosen.TV. The app is available for free in the Google App Store.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

If you have been following this website over the last year, you know that other than the pandemic we have been very high on a show about the life of Jesus called “The Chosen.” If you want to hear or read our thoughts, check out this podcast with film critic Tim Luisi, or this one with Father Tyler Gongola, or read this recommendation, or even this one. While you are on the app be sure to pay it forward to support season 3 of this unique show from producer Dallas Jenkins and VidAngel Studios.

If you watched season one and have started season two you may notice that, in this particular season, it is the interrelationships of the disciples, more so than the ministry of Jesus that takes center stage. This is intentional, as Dallas stated during the livestream premier of Episode 2 (and 3). “We want to go deeper into the relationship between the disciples and really draw out the way that would have played out in their time and culture.” We would be naive to think there would not be rivalries. In fact all four Gospel accounts show rivalries and disagreements arose all the time, especially around who would be the greatest. It also makes sense that when you throw several fisherman, the man who was likely their tax collector, a former zealot and other together and you spend almost every minute together there is bound to be conflict. We also know that there were still rivalries and mistakes made after Jesus had ascended, such as what is recorded by Paul in Galatians 3. Competition was central to the culture of the Hellenized Mediterranean world. Scholars even point out that the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus into orthodoxy competitions.

Before I go on, I have to make this disclaimer. The Chosen is a TV show about the life of Jesus. It shows us what it was very likely like living in the time of Jesus and shows us some of the more popular bible passages and stories dramatized. Dallas and team have gone to great lengths to make this look and feel as authentic as possible, even though it is in English, they have done a tremendous job of doing just that. But outside of the Gospel passages, everything else is speculation. We are not told what sits in the many days and weeks that the Gospels do not cover, so there is creative license being taken with what comes in between the great historical events of Jesus life. This does not take away from the authority of scripture, nor does it add to the Gospels. Hundreds of hours of study and learning about the culture have and continue to go into this show, but Dallas never claims the extra-biblical material is authoritative, but it can be instructive, and as we will see, quite revealing of ourselves.

Downlead the Unique Chosen App here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.vidangel.thechosen&hl=en_US&gl=US

What I am not sure if Dallas intended, was that this show about the life of Jesus would become a literal mirror into the background life of the Church. Now, to some extent this was intended. Episode 2, which covers the calling of Nathaniel is a window in Dallas’s own struggles as a film  maker who wanted to do amazing things for God. This has also been done intentionally, as in the case of Star Trek the Original Series which dealt with real life issues as it tried to show us what Rodenberry believed humanity could become. But I am not sure if Dallas intended to stare into the soul of the Church with the ending of Season 2, Episode 3.

If you have not seen it yet, stop reading and go and watch it. If you have, then keep reading.

The Episode follows the story of Jesus healing multitudes north of Galilee. As more and more people show up we know that Jesus is healing, but it follows the disciples actions as they man the line, have conversations, prepare food and talk about following Torah, which Matthew and the women are eager to learn. Eventually they find themselves sitting around the campfire and this discussion about Torah is winding down. Like all of us have done at times, they are sitting around talking about the strange ways they had broken Torah. John has eaten Meat with Cheese, Philip had pork once, little things like that or fishing on Shabbat (Sabbath). Finally, Peter, (the portrayal of which by Shahar Isaac is probably as close to an accurate portrayal of Peter we have ever seen,) asks Matthew (played by Paras Patel) why he is suddenly so interested in Torah. Remember, Matthew was a tax collector,  so to Peter and the others he is seen as a traitor to his people. He works to collect taxes from the merchants and fishermen for the occupying and oppressing force, Rome. We know that he has lived a posh life, he is wealthy, owns his own home, likely had a guard and access to the halls of power. Again, it is extra-biblical, but when Jesus calls Matthew, Peter actually asks him if he knows what this man has “done” to them. Now the conflict is about to boil over, voices get raised and the conversation begins to get tense. Peter wants an apology, Matthew does not understand why. Peter proclaims: “This man made me do things I never would have done otherwise.” When confronted about the fact that he had almost sold James and John out to the Romans for fishing on Shabbat to pay off his debts (sn 1, ep 4). As the argument goes on, eventually you start hearing footsteps, then Jesus walks by after a full day of healing the sick and lame and casting out demons. Is hands have blood on them, he is exhausted, ready to collapse, and because He is the God-Man, and because He always knew in the Gospels when something was up, He knows about the tensions and the argument. The look on his face silences everyone, Johnathan Roumie, who plays Jesus, does a good job here giving them an: “I don’t want to deal with you right now” face, the look is clear, “While you were here squabbling about the past, I was busy healing people.”

I once described to someone that being a historian of the Church who focused on the nineteenth century makes me a historian of internecine warfare. My thesis, which you can find here, was written about one of these debates over the nature of the Church between Mercersburg and Princeton. You can even go as far back as the eighteenth century where fights over The Awakenings were common, in fact, set the stage for all the debates of the church in the nineteenth. old lights and new lights fed into old school and new school, nature verses nurture discipleship, the long debates over slavery in the church, debates over reconstruction, debates over the place of social work in the church, then leading into the fundamentalist, modernist controversy and egalitarian verses complementarian debates of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The history of the American Church, in the most negative sense can be known as a history of fighting. That is not all we are known for, there are great moments as well, missions movements and great gospel work all over the world. But it is possible to classify our past as the Church in America as a history of internecine fighting.

The Trailer for The Chosen Season 1

Perhaps this is because the church in this country has long had the protection of religious freedom and so when you are not under the gun, like our Roman ancestors, it is easier for you to have debates over theology that never get resolved. That is not to say that our brothers and sisters under the threat of persecution from Rome did not have theological debates. The Church Father’s writers disabuse us of that notion. However,  they did work to retain harmony and unity within the Church as much as possible with great success until The Great Schism of the twelfth century and the Reformation in the sixteenth. While I disagree with the Critique that the Reformation paved the way for the mess we are in now (over 200 incorporated denominations in the United States), Luther made a concerted effort to keep the reformation from splitting over the Eucharist (Communion) but was unable to do so. The generations after the Reformation worked hard to maintain some semblance of unity. After being excluded from Westminster and crafting their Declaration of Faith my own denomination, the Congregationalists, sat down with the Presbyterians and crafted “The Heads of Agreement.” We have even seen recently attempts at reducing the division and animosity in the Catholic and Lutheran Accords and the Reforming Catholic Confession. Still, we remain more divided than ever and our fights continue to be petty and harmful.

Meanwhile, the Church continues to decline and lose its cultural footing, following the path of the European Churches into oblivion. N.T Wright made the point that the Churches in England had to settle a lot of their more heated debate, especially concerning female clergy, because the cost would have been the Gospel. Churches in the Czech Republic don’t have a debate over Alcohol use, they’ve had to settle that issue. Yet here, we still have debates over both women in ministry and over alcohol consumption.  I have written elsewhere that we really do not have the luxury of fruitless debates and internecine fighting, it is continuing to contribute to our decline. How many exiles have I encountered, especially Pastor’s Kids who say the reason they are exiles is all the fighting, fights, fights and more fights. They want wisdom, they want Christ, but they are not finding him in the place that He is most to be found.

This is where The Chosen becomes a mirror to our behavior. A lot of our fights are cultural and did not exist until the 9th-12th centuries. They are born out of a desire for power and influence, not out of genuine concern for sound doctrine and teaching. That was true about the fight over slavery in the 19th century and it is true about the complementarian / egalitarian debate today. It also shows an extreme lack of discipleship to Christ, a lack of taking Christ seriously. Sadly, when someone does come out of an oppressive movement, we are more like Peter than like Christ. In the end, we are like the disciples as Dallas depicted them, arguing and bickering around the campfire while Jesus comes back, exhausted from the day’s work, blood on his hands from the work of healing the sick all day.

When I was serving as a missionary in Dallas, we went to an apartment complex where we were totally unprepared for the spiritual darkness and got run out by teens with weapons and kids with skittles. That afternoon we sat at the compound we were staying at while the Mission Arlington Team and our Team Leaders debated and then talked with us about whether or not we should go back to this place. We weighed the pros and cons and were almost unanimous (1 person would not go back) about our desire to go back and persist in bringing the Gospel to this place we had been asked to come. The next day we set up in a different location, took the teens over to play basketball and ministered to the kids. That ended up being the place the Gospel penetrated the most deeply and we saw kids reached for Christ.

Most of the time in the Church in America, it seems like we are too busy fighting a war with one another and with the culture, while Jesus is silently doing ministry through those committed to being his hands and feet. Every now and then, Jesus comes across us bickering and gives us the “I don’t have time for you” look before going to bed for the night, only to get up and do it all again the next day. We can either put down our weapons and words and join him or we can fade away into oblivion like so many of our ancestors before us. My wife always says that: “Yes, it is sad that we don’t have X anymore, and it’s okay to be sad, but we can’t sit around and fight about losing X, we need to find what Jesus is doing now and join Him.” I love her for this wisdom, as a born and raised New Englander, she understands the detrimental effects of churches fighting culture wars instead of proclaiming and being Christ. We have both seen first-hand the effects of how Church fights do harm to the Gospel and the witness of Christ.

My friends, it is time for us to do what the Jars of Clay song says: “Lay your weapons down, there are no enemies in front of you now.” No one in the body of Christ is your enemy unless they are an actual wolf in sheep clothing that needs to be exposed and excommunicated (1 Tim 1:20). We must, must, join together with Jesus and do the work of Jesus, shining a light in the ever darkening world. It is time to end this foolishness and start living the life Jesus has called us to through our relationship with Him. There is a great work to do.  Let’s join it before it’s too late.

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