Jesus walking with the Apostles in a scene from The Chosen

Catholic commentary on streaming series “The Chosen”

The Chosen is the first multiseason television series based on the Gospels. While it’s primarily a protestant production, many Catholics are encouraged to know that a Catholic priest is consulted during the scriptwriting process and the actor playing Jesus Christ is a devout Catholic named Jonathan Roumie. The smash hit has reached over 100 million people. But is it a good show for Catholics to watch?

Why Catholics are concerned about The Chosen

The Biblical “backstory”

Viewers are immediately struck by how much of The Chosen‘s content is not found in scripture or sacred tradition. In fact, most of the scenes in the first three episodes are comprised of elaborate “backstories” the filmmakers imaged for each Biblical character. For example:

  • Peter is depicted as a desperate business owner, working on the Sabbath to pay an enormous tax debt.
  • The Apostel Matthew is portrayed as a man struggling with social skills due to autism.
  • A violent Roman official named Quintus is created to build tension between Jews and the occupying forces.

The show producers insist that creative license was needed to depict characters that modern viewers could relate with. They also say the creative choices never directly contradict scripture but are “theologically plausible.” For example, Peter calls himself a “sinful man” in the Bible but never specifies the type of sin he struggled with, so that leaves room for modern writers to imagine possible scenarios.

The “Left Behind” connection

Some Catholics remain wary of The Chosen, concerned that filmmakers could misrepresent the truth of The Gospel. The largest concern is centered around the fact that director and co-writer Dallas Jenkins is the son of Jerry B. Jenkins, a Christian novelist whose Left Behind series does not seem to connect well with Catholic teaching.

Jenkins attempts to calm those concerns by publishing video roundtables featuring religious leaders he consultants with during the writing process. These spirited conversations showcase the different theological perspectives of each faith tradition and the delicate balance that The Chosen must walk to please a wide audience.

The Chosen’s theological roundtable

These advisors include:

  • Dr. Doug Huffman, a professor of the Talbot School of Theology at protestant Biola University and minister of the Evangelical Free Church of America.
  • Messianic Jewish Rabbi Jason Sobel of Fusion Global Ministries.
  • Father David Guffey, C.S.C., national director of Family Theater Productions. Bishop Robert Barron has at times appeared in Fr. Guffey’s place.

The Chosen’s LDS connection

Catholics and non-Catholics alike have raised concerns that the second season was filmed on a Utah set owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and members of the LDS Church were involved in production. Jenkins has responded to that concern in several statements, asserting that the show tries not to favor any one type of doctrine. While not endorsing or condemning LDS theology, Jenkins expresses fondness for his Momon colleagues and insists that he remains an Evangelical Christian.

The Chosen’s season-three promotional trailer also revealed a piece of dialog that some claimed is only found in the Book of Mormon, when the actor playing Jesus says, “I am the law of Moses.” But Jenkins (and many others) dismiss the complaint, again calling the creative choice “theologically plausible.” He also noted that the word choice in that line of dialog had been previously proposed by people outside of the LDS community.

Other criticisms of The Chosen

Many negative criticisms of the series are fairly nitpicky, like whether or not taverns existed in 1st century Judia, to more serious theological concepts like whether or not Mary felt pain during Jesus’ birth. Debates between critics and show producers are sure to continue for the life of the production, as commentators dissect the creative choices under a theological microscope.

Catholic experts weigh in on The Chosen

Secular critics have been surprisingly kind to The Chosen, IMDb users giving it 9.3 stars out of 10 and Rotten Tomatoes ratings at times reaching 100%.

Several Catholic organizations have stepped up to provide theological and creative feedback on this popular series. Many of them compare and contrast the show’s portrayal of the well-known Bible stories against Catholic teaching and tradition, coming up with both glowing reviews and negative criticism.

Here is a short list of Catholic commentaries on The Chosen

  • Fr. Casey Cole, OFM: Popular Youtube priest Casey Cole evaluates The Chosen in a growing number of videos on two of his channels, Upon Friar Review and Breaking In The Habit. Many of the segments are “reaction” videos where Fr. Cole (often accompanied by fellow Franciscan Fr. Patrick Tuttle, OFM) reacts to clips from the show after seeing them for the first time. His comments range in topic from theological interpretations to the aesthetics of the production. The feedback is often candid and emotional, as he makes a personal connection to each actor’s portrayal of Biblical characters.
  • The Augustine Institute’s streaming platform Formed distributes each episode of The Chosen along with very academic video commentaries of each installment by Dr. Scott Hefelfinger and Dr. Michael Barber. They dive deep into how well the series matches up with the latest Biblical and historical research. These video commentaries tend to be rather stern evaluations, not giving the filmmakers much room for artistic license.
  • Catholic Answers: Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem, explains how the priests in his “conservative,” Aquinas-loving, Latin Mass celebrating colleagues grew to appreciate The Chosen. He tests the series against a variety of Catholic doctrines.

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