Dallas Jenkins is known to many as the writer and director of The Chosen, the remarkable and increasingly popular television series on the life of Christ.
Jenkins is also the son of Jerry Jenkins, well-known to millions as the co-author (with the late Tim LaHaye) of the Left Behind series of novels inspired by belief in “the Rapture”.
One of the notable achievements of The Chosen is that Jenkins’ theological positions are nearly impossible to discern from the show; what is evident is his profound and deep love for Our Lord and Sacred Scripture. His respect for the Biblical accounts of the life of Jesus is evidenced by the fact that he and the other creators of the show aim to accurately and faithfully depict the events of Jesus’ ministry, while taking sidebars in order to flesh out the figures of the apostles, or to illustrate a part of Jesus’ personality. The show also retains a sort of advisory board of ministers—a priest, a rabbi, and a Protestant minister—to help the creators with theological issues and other questions.
The show is, in my estimation, a triumph; even a stunning achievement. At this point, just two seasons in, I have never seen an on-screen depiction of Our Lord that did such an incredible job of balancing the human and the divine, Jesus’ self-knowledge and personal struggles. This is more than an achievement on the part of the writers. Due credit must be given to Jonathan Roumie, who portrays Jesus on the show. Roumie’s portrayal of Jesus is stunning, and in turns gut-wrenching, amusing, and heartwarming. Roumie is devoutly Catholic, and it is easy to see his faith come through in his performance.
The show is, however, completely flawless. It has its shortcomings. But that does not take away from what an incredible achievement it is. The creators clearly express what the show is—an artistic representation—and is not—the inspired Word of God. With that in mind, the viewer is free to let The Chosen bring them into a deeper and more personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and a greater devotion to the apostles and others who walked with Jesus.
The series is funded by donations and merchandising. There are no subscription fees. The seasons are released on DVD, hundreds of t-shirts, mugs, hats, sweaters, and more are available for purchase; that is is how the show is funded. As of this writing, season 3 is almost completely funded, according to the show’s website. Production does not halt during the funding process; Jenkins and the rest of the creators have been hard at work writing the third season, and pre-production is underway. Those who are interested in contributing can do so at this link.
Dallas Jenkins recently spoke with Catholic World Report about The Chosen, his vision for it, and some of the challenges in its creation.
Catholic World Report: Why did you decide to have theological consultants from different backgrounds?
Dallas Jenkins: I just wanted to make sure I didn’t step on any land mines unnecessarily. I don’t mind upsetting some people for something I feel strongly about, but there’s no need to do it on something minor, and at the very least, I want to know what I’m potentially dealing with if there’s going to be disagreement or controversy.
Plus, I think it’s fascinating for Evangelicals, Jews, Catholics, etc., to hear each other’s perspectives in a respectful way.
CWR: Is it important to you that the show have an ecumenical and interreligious appeal?
Jenkins: I don’t really think of it in terms of “appeal.” I don’t think Jesus did, either. It’s important to me to make as good a show as I can and to accurately represent the character and intentions of Jesus and the Gospels. I can’t really think too much about who it appeals to.
CWR: Are you at all nervous about portraying some of the points that are points of contention between Protestants and Catholics? (For example, John 6 and the Last Supper, Matthew 16:18, etc.?)
Jenkins: I don’t really get nervous as long as I believe what I’m doing is good and faithful to what God wants from me.
But either way, this show is a portrayal of what we believe happened, not an analysis of the theological implications. Whenever we portray what Jesus said, it’s up to the viewers as to their interpretation and what church they want to attend when analyzing his words.
CWR: We have been so moved (to tears, quite often!) by the artistic choices you all have made, and the performances of the actors. Is it challenging to figure out just how to “think outside the box” effectively?
Jenkins: Yes, it’s always challenging to write compelling stories and dialogue, but that’s the fun part. We believe these characters were real human beings, so portraying them as having a wide range of emotions just like we do is the secret sauce to the show, I believe.
Everything needs to be “plausible,” but once we pass that test, it just becomes a fun puzzle as we try to think of ways to tell a familiar story in a unique way that’ll unlock emotion and insight for the viewer.
CWR: The way you have developed the personal backstories for each of the characters has been fascinating, and feels so authentic. What is your process for fleshing those out?
Jenkins: We start with what we know from Scripture, and what each character’s big “moment” is in Scripture, and then we work our way backwards. We want those moments to be as impactful as possible, and we want the characters to be as human and authentic as possible, so we create these backstories accordingly.
CWR: Are you planning to go back and depict (maybe in flashbacks) some of the earlier scenes, like the Presentation in the Temple with Simeon and Anna? And the Visitation? And the Baptism in the Jordan?
Jenkins: We’ll see!
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