The Gospel Streamed

The Gospel Streamed

I sat down expecting to be disappointed. Religious television and movies have dissatisfied my artistic, historical, and theological sensibilities so often over the years that my wife, who had already seen the episode, had to nudge a bit to get me to watch.

I came away profoundly moved and ready to buy the first season of The Chosen, a new streaming television series on the life of Jesus as experienced by his followers. It is billed as the largest crowd-funded production in television history and it doesn’t disappoint.

Artistically, The Chosen is very satisfying. The scenery, the videography, the acting, plot lines and story structure draw you in and keep you engaged. Often, in Bible-based films, one or more of those elements is so bad it’s like hearing a soloist mangle the Star-Spangled Banner. You just wish they’d left it alone. Not here. Only a few of the actors were recognizable. Eric Avari (The Mummy, Independence Day, The Brink) plays a nuanced Nicodemus. Jonathon Roumie (The Good Wife, Fallout 4) plays a kind and believable Jesus. But none hit a flat note.

Historically, The Chosen hits its marks with credibility. The interplay between Matthew the tax collector and his Roman body guard and between Nicodemus and a Roman Centurion rings true to what we know of the relationships between oppressed and oppressor. Andrew and Peter’s fishing boat and business and their interaction with tax collector Matthew are also believable.

I’ve only seen the first episode, available here for free, but so far, The Chosen doesn’t disappoint in the spiritual or theological arena either. In fact, just the opposite. Director Dallas Jenkins, son of well-known evangelical author Jerry Jenkins, is a Bible-believing evangelical who has “zero desire to mess with Scripture or make some sort of new theological point. This is about telling these stories in a way that makes the moments in Scripture even more impactful.”[1] Justin Tolley, a producer on the project, agrees. “We don’t want to roll one frame that’s contrary to the Word of God. We want to do it with excellence, to give God our best.”[2] Show consultants include a New Testament scholar and a Messianic Jewish rabbi.

The storytellers of a culture shape the values of the culture. This is the greatest story ever and in The Chosen it is being well told. So far so good, but there is one fly in the ointment. VidAngel, the streaming service they’ve partnered with just lost a big legal battle with the Hollywood movie industry that has the potential to kill the service. That would force the producers to go with another platform that may not be as friendly to The Chosen’s production values. That would be a shame.

If you’re looking for something edifying to watch with excellent production values, I encourage you to try The Chosen, or look up their Facebook page for trailers and background videos. You won’t be disappointed.

[1] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/interview-dallas-jenkins-first-multi-season-drama-life-christ/

[2] From The Chosen Facebook page.

I’M HERE FOR THE MUSIC

No iTunes can match, no earbud replace the living intercourse of artist and audience.

The kid at the keyboard, Samuel, who is only sixteen and won’t mind me calling him that, had no idea what he was about to do to us. Oh he knew he was presenting a Chopin piece for an offertory, one he had practiced for many months in preparation for a local scholarship competition. And that our small church was a great place for a first public performance, a warm up for the big dance, but he could not know the rest.

That the music, Fantaisie Impromtu in C# Op. 66, was not specifically religious did not matter. All beauty belongs to God and, as per Philippians 4:8, our congregation celebrates it whenever we can. That such an intricate and demanding piece came from such a young man, with power, grace, skill, and sensitivity, moved the adults in the room on a level a sixteen-year-old cannot comprehend. When I realized he’d played it from memory I nearly fell off my stool, but you would have had to be there.

That’s the thing about live music. It is fleeting, communal, and transparent, lasting only as long as notes linger midair, shared only by those who perform with those who attend. No iTune can match, no earbud replace the living intercourse of artist and audience. Of all God’s creatures only humans have the experience created when a musician brings a composer’s song to life and infuses the listener with its soul.

You have to be there.

I’ve “been there” three times since last summer. Once to hear one of my favorite rockers, Don Henley, this was a gift from my daughters; once to hear the Ukrainian National Symphony, presented by the Danville Concert Association; and of course Samuel playing Chopin in church. (That none of the music was specifically Christian says things about the state of Christian performing arts, but we won’t go there today). Each time the music, the mastery of the artists, and the shared joy of the moment, moved me to tears. Each time I gave glory to God and thanked him for the gift. Earth is full of the echoes of heaven, and if we are capable of such beauty, pathos, and exultation through the combination of tone, rhythm, and word, what must God be able to do?

Some say that in heaven we will be able to hear color and see music. If so, I can’t wait. Until then keep singing in church, encouraging young musicians, and making room in your life to share the experience of live music, because if you want to be blessed by the piano man, you have to be there.

Oh, and Samuel? He won.