A humble suggestion: start this year by bingeing Jesus

Disclaimer: Not all television shows are edifying. Not all “binge-watching” is harmless. I’m fully aware of this.

That said, I’d like to suggest that you and your family binge Jesus this summer.

When I say “binge Jesus”, I mean specifically binge-watch the Jesus show that is turning ordinary(ish) Christians like me into “that annoying friend who won’t stop banging on about The Chosen“.

For those readers who have no idea what I am talking about, here are the four things you need to know:

  • There’s this TV series called The Chosen that is breaking records and has an ever-increasing, super-loyal fan base;
  • It’s not on Netflix. It’s free. To watch it, you have to download an app called “The Chosen” on your smartphone or iPad or tablet, then stream it to your TV. (It’s honestly not as complicated as it sounds);
  • The reason The Chosen is free is that other people have donated so that you can watch it for free. It’s a “pay it forward” business model.
  • The Chosen got made because people believed in it so much they crowdfunded the ten million dollars needed to make the first season – which broke crowdfunding records.

None of the above is the reason why I am suggesting you binge-watch The Chosen this summer.

The reason is simply that I genuinely think it will do your faith good. I believe it will provide you with the kind of refreshing encounter with the story of Jesus we all need as we begin 2022. And the show is so good that I can not stop recommending it to people.

You see, The Chosen is not your usual kind of Christian movie. It’s a whole different thing.

Past cinematic interpretations of biblical stories seem to have always swung to one of two extremes. First, there are the weird Hollywood creative interpretations that leave you asking, “Ummm, does the Bible teach that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a couple and I missed it??”. (For the record, no, it doesn’t.)

Understanding this historical context is critical.

And then there are those films that stick to the text of the Bible so carefully that they end up being a bit … well, boring. Not to mention weird.

I get why this has happened. The Bible warns against adding to the word of God, and I understand why some Christians apply that teaching to their craft as filmmakers. But the Bible is an ancient book – its stories are located in an ancient context – so a lot is going on between the lines that the average Christian can miss or misunderstand.

The part of the Bible that The Chosen deals with – Jesus’ ministry years – is a section where context really matters. For example, the gospels are packed full of amazing stories that take place among (mostly) Jewish people who live in a Roman province. Understanding this historical context is critical.

Furthermore, the gospels only ever provide short summaries of events and teaching. They’re a little bit like someone’s social media feed, giving us a highlights reel of Jesus’ life. And just as is the case when viewing someone’s Instagram feed, the snapshots can make Jesus seem as if he wasn’t an actual, living human at all.

In the past, I’ve always put that down to Jesus being “fully God and fully human”. But if God actually “took on human flesh and dwelt among us”, then it’s kind of important that we engage with Jesus’ humanity, isn’t it?

Watching The Chosen helped me do that. Many times, its creators have said, “The Chosen is not the Bible.” And, released from simply retelling what the gospels say (and nothing more), they can focus on telling the story as well as possible for a TV-watching audience.

That doesn’t mean that they are adding wild stuff into the story. The Chosen is very orthodox theologically on the big things that matter most. You will not find any strange atonement theories here.

Jesus and his disciples feel like real people. They have personality.

Instead, the scriptwriters have worked hard to figure out how they can fill in the details that the gospel leaves out when describing Jesus’ life and ministry – all the while striving to be faithful to what the gospels do include.

The result? Jesus and his disciples feel like real people. They have personality. They laugh and joke and cry and get hungry and whinge and dance. You can relate to them the same way you do to any great film character. They’re believable.

In addition, like any good historical film or TV show, Jesus’ world comes to life. The various power-brokers in society become distinguishable – the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Romans aren’t all lumped together as enemies of Jesus. It is a personally unfamiliar world to us, but it makes sense regardless.

Best of all, Jesus’ ministry comes to life.

And all of this makes you want to go back to your Bible and pour through its pages.

We enter his ministry through the experiences of his disciples – the ones whom Jesus has chosen. As followers of Jesus, we can see the roots of the same faith we now share. The disciples are imperfect people trying to understand truths beyond comprehension – just as we are – and when they manage to grasp one, we do, too. Jesus’ work is exciting and revolutionary. We can see how it will turn the world upside down, even if the disciples can’t yet.

And all of this makes you want to go back to your Bible and pour through its pages.

I have found myself eager to compare the scene I’ve just watched in the various gospel accounts. I’ve checked what is and isn’t included. I’ve searched to find what hints might have inspired certain lines in the script.

I’ve even found myself in tears as I watched because I am so overwhelmed by the love of Jesus portrayed on my TV screen.

Ironically, by creatively interpreting the text of the Bible, somehow, The Chosen‘s creators have inspired me to want to know exactly what the Bible says more than ever. These are stories I have read and heard preached hundreds of times that I have to work hard not to grow familiar with. Yet they have become new again. It is almost as though I have never heard them before. I’ve even found myself in tears as I watched because I am so overwhelmed by the love of Jesus portrayed on my TV screen.

So, look, maybe you won’t love The Chosen as much as I do. I can not even begin to tell you how sceptical I was as a long-term hater of Christian film. But, what if you do?

What if it makes the faith you’ve kept for years feel fresh and new? What if it reveals new facets of Jesus’ life you haven’t thought about before?

What if the show profoundly influences your spouse? Or your kids? And it sparks the kinds of conversations you’ve been longing to have with them?

I pray that it would. It did all of these things for me. And so, I return to my humble suggestion: start the year by bingeing Jesus.