Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

5 Sep 2023

Images of the Image of God

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Faith-based, multi-season series The Chosen has made a big splash, showcasing an audience of 100 million plus and views, in some form, surpassing 500 million.[1] At the start of production, it held the place of “highest crowdfunded media project of all time.”[2] The show enjoys widespread backing across the nominal Christian landscape.

The same questions provoked by Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ confront believers in relation to The Chosen. “Should I watch the show?” “Is there value in it?” “Does the show enrich my relationship with God?” “Is there any danger in watching it?”

Let me say upfront that I will not offer a definitive answer. In a sense, that’s for one’s conscience to decide. The conscience is a gift of God, and each one should listen to the conscience while striving to inform the conscience by Scripture (Rom 14:14, 23). Let me also say that discernment demands these questions be asked. As believers we strive to do all things for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). We aim to honor God to the highest degree. So, in all ethical choices, the baseline of permissibility is never the goal.

Our analysis will develop in two parts: the show’s goal and its means. In an interview for Outreach Magazine, Dallas Jenkins, the creator and director of The Chosen, explains the purpose of the show.[3] The line that best captures the thrust of The Chosen reads, “The most important message in the world deserves the most influential medium in the world.”[4] Jenkins believes strongly that storytelling via TV commands the greatest influence among communication mediums. One question propels his career: “What if we [Christian influencers] try to utilize the storytelling strengths of great film?”[5]

As a lengthy aside, I must say that I strongly object to Jenkins’ view of objectionable elements. He references Pulp Fiction as a masterpiece,[6] and he encourages engagement with sordid content by way of the following comment:

…I understand that there are lots of movies and television shows that are great, but if watched improperly or un-thoughtfully can be damaging to the mind. They can violate some of the standards of the Gospels and of Paul’s letters about filling your mind with things that are good. But I do think that there are ways to engage maturely with complex media as Christians.[7]   

Personally, I have never found it possible to expose myself to immoral media while keeping immorality out of my mind. Maybe that’s because I’m immature. One wonders what Jenkins has in mind by the assertion, “…there are ways to engage maturely with complex media…”

Returning to the mainline analysis, what should we make of the claim, “The most important message in the world deserves the most influential medium in the world”? It seems to me that this claim is easily dismissed. In opening our Bibles to Genesis 1, we find not a television but the effectual word of the living God. Jesus did not take to himself the moniker TV but the eternal λόγος. By every metric, the divine word is and always will be the most influential medium in the world. Not only was the world created by this Word, but this Word sustains the world in all its courses (cf. Heb 1:3). Having made the theological point, let’s analyze Jekins’ claim on the historical level. TV is a recent invention (circa 1927), whereas words have always existed (cf. Jn 1:1). Not much more need be said. Finally, adding to theological and historical argumentation, let us make a literary point. Everyone knows reading the Harry Potter saga is infinitely better than watching the films. So also the Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a medium of communication, the show falls short of its goal. It falls short because, in fact, TV is not more influential than the written or spoken word. It also falls short because, to some degree, the show distorts the message of Christianity. I will try to support this claim in two parts: the ecumenical nature of The Chosen and the second commandment. At this point, alongside The Chosen’s goal, we begin to analyze its means.

The show is admittedly an ecumenical project. A priest, a rabbi, and an evangelical scholar serve as the biblical consultants, and they give hours of commentary covering each episode.[8] In my view, the Reformed gospel is the true gospel– salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Any self-proclaimed effort to propagate the Christian message that doesn’t accurately convey the gospel automatically does more harm than help. Jesus is not simply interested in more publicity, irrespective of the accuracy of the message and integrity of the messenger (cf. Luke 4:34–35). It is possible to propagate a Jesus other than the true Jesus (cf. 2 Cor 11:4). In my opinion, an ecumenical Jesus isn’t the real Jesus.

This issue bleeds into our consideration of the second commandment. Strictly speaking, the second commandment prohibits crafting images for use in worship (Ex 20:4–6). An idol distorts the truth about God and, therefore, dishonors God. No image or likeness fashioned by human hands can, in any sense, stand in the place of God. Applying the second commandment to Jesus proves tricky because of the union of his divine and human natures. As mind-blowing as it is, the second person of the Trinity is now embodied. Are all images of Jesus violations of the second commandment, including flannelgraph? Honestly, I struggle with this question. Images should never be used to reveal or represent God in worship. Does The Chosen cross that line? It’s hard to say. The show intends, it would seem, to provide the viewer with an enhanced experience of Jesus, along with the other characters of the Gospels. This bears out in the way people talk about the show (“Ah, when I read this story, I used to just see it as words on a page, just a general story. Now I’m realizing it’s specifically for me. It’s specifically for my experience. I can have this same relationship with Jesus that they did.”[9] ). The illusion of greater intimacy with Jesus provided by The Chosen is dangerous, to say the least. Similarly, Christ’s humanity cannot be isolated and treated apart from his divinity. As Chalcedon says, the divine and human natures of Christ coincide “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably.” Christ is a transcendent person. He evades any attempt of cinematography to capture and convey his eternal personality. Put simply, an attempt seems unwise. Perhaps Packer says it best: “…the extent to which the image fails to tell the truth about God, to that extent you will fail to worship God in truth. That is why God forbids you and me to make use of images and pictures in our worship.”[10]

Each one must draw his own conclusions, but these, at least, are the issues I believe we need to think through.

[1] “Dallas Jenkins: Seeing in the Dark,” Interview by Paul J. Pastor, Outreach Magazine, July/August 2023, p. 78.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, pp. 71–80.

[4] Ibid, p. 72.

[5] Ibid, p. 75.

[6] Ibid, p. 75.

[7] Ibid, p. 72.

[8] For commentary on the first episode see

[9] “Seeing in the Dark,” p. 80.

[10] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (IVP: Downers Grove, IL) pp. 47.