‘The Chosen’ critics miss a great chance to share the Gospel

2 mins read
The Chosen season 4
The Chosen | Season 4 Trailer Screengrab.

I wasn’t planning on watching “The Chosen.” I’ve seen too many Christian movies you would be embarrassed to show a broad audience. At some point, I stopped watching them, because I didn’t want to be mean to presumably well-intentioned people and write about it.

I relented when a wise Catholic friend (whose name you would probably know and is such a gift to the Church) encouraged me to. She was particularly impressed with the portrayal of the humanity of and relationships among the apostles. (My words, not hers: “If they can be called, maybe I have a shot!”) And I didn’t regret breaking my unofficial policy.

There have been many criticisms of “The Chosen” recently, especially as it is currently in a theater run for its fourth season. I agree with some of them. I know people confuse Jonathan Roumie with Jesus just as they did Jim Caviezel after “The Passion of the Christ.” We’re in such a visual age, and people are hurting so deeply, that it’s not surprising.

Neither is actually Jesus, for the record.

An opening for grace

One of the reasons I gave in to watching the initial seasons is because my faithful friend, who prays hours every day, said that “The Chosen” was not invading her own prayer. She wasn’t sitting at Mass, hearing the Gospel, and picturing scenes from the fictional adaptation of the lives of Jesus and the apostles. That’s because she already had a long-established relationship with the Trinity and the truths of Catholicism. Not everyone does. (But could watching this series be a start? May it be so!)

Some viewers of “The Chosen” have missed the fine print about how the writers are taking poetic license with Scripture. Among others, there’s one dramatic storyline in the new season that has zero basis in the Bible. And yet, I found it a powerful catalyst for meditation on the will of God the Father.

Because of “The Chosen,” some people believe we know that St. Matthew was autistic and that St. Peter and his wife suffered a miscarriage (sorry for the spoilers there). And yes, there is swag and prayer books and capitalism — all part of the marketing.

There are Catholic parishes using the series as Bible studies. Sure, they might be better off using Augustine Institute materials (you may be familiar with their “Formed” resources). And yet, if “The Chosen” gets people thinking and praying — and spending more time at church — under the right conditions, it may be a grace. I have a friend who was recruited in her parish to help keep the conversations about the series rooted in actual truths of the Faith. If a parish is going to use “The Chosen,” that seems a decent approach.

My encounter with “The Chosen” has simply been a reminder of that Christmas sermon from St. Leo the Great that appears in the Liturgy of the Hours every year. “Christian, remember your dignity!”

‘Let the pagan take courage’

“No one is shut out from this joy,” we read, “all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.”

The older I get, the more I appreciate not making perfect the enemy of the good. And the fact that catechesis has been so poor for so long in many places and there are so many misunderstandings of Christianity and Catholicism specifically isn’t on the makers of “The Chosen,” who are not the Vatican or a bishops’ conference or a school of theology or your parish priest.

For those of us who are not filmmakers, we can have conversations about this cultural event that leads people, with God’s grace, to the sacraments. That’s not the job of director Dallas Jenkins (who is not Catholic) or Jonathan Roumie (who is). That gets to a true Gospel mandate that their work should remind the rest of us about. It’s our choice. Complain. “Binge Jesus,” as one T-shirt says. Or take the opportunity to walk the Gospel walk with people. 

Kathryn Jean Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.