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Should I Let My Kids Watch The Chosen? (Mailbag Q&R #1)

Updated: May 31

I often receive emails from fans of The Chosen (or other Bible films/shows) who have questions about the show or biblical adaptation. In today’s post, I share an email I recently received and my response. If you have questions that you’d like me to help you answer, please reach out and share them with me through my email. If I haven’t addressed the topic before and I think my broader audience would be interested in my response to your question, I may include your question in my next Mailbag Q&R (with your permission).


Jesus teaches children in The Chosen Season 1 Episode 3
Jesus teaches children in The Chosen Season 1 Episode 3

Question: Should I Let My Kids Watch The Chosen?


Dear Bible Artist,

I am eager to watch The Chosen with my kids, especially given how faithful and moving its portrayal of Jesus is. But this magnetic portrayal of Jesus also causes me to be concerned: What if my kids are more drawn to the Jesus of The Chosen than to the Jesus of the gospels? What if, in their heart, they are placing their faith in "the TV Jesus"?

Is this a legitimate concern? If we watch The Chosen together, what can I do to ensure that my kids get their primary understanding and appreciation of Jesus from the Bible?

grace & peace,

C


Response: Not If but When & How

Thanks C for reaching out.


I want to begin by expressing my appreciation for the thoughtfulness that went into this question and the discernment that you are exercising in raising your kids. When it comes to biblical adaptations, it’s easy for Christians to be very black and white (e.g. The Chosen is totally bad and no one should ever watch it or The Chosen is the best thing ever and everyone should watch it). The reality is somewhere in-between: The Chosen is a good but imperfect adaptation that most people should watch (eventually).


While it makes minor changes to the details of biblical narratives, The Chosen adheres fairly well to the spirit of the Gospels. Moreover, it offers a portrayal of Jesus that is, as you said, faithful and moving. But that doesn’t mean The Chosen is for everybody. Children - especially young children - may not be ready to engage with The Chosen for several reasons, including the issue that you raised. Still, I’m convinced that the question is if we should let our kids watch The Chosen, the real question is when and how. 


When to let your children watch The Chosen

Eventually, your children will watch The Chosen. None of us has the ability to control what our kids watch forever. And since you’ve enjoyed The Chosen yourself, I assume that you would eventually like your kids to do so as well. The trick is in deciding when each child is ready to enjoy the show. I’d like to highlight a few factors that you should take into consideration:


Attention Span

The Chosen is not written or shot like a kid’s show. The pace of events isn’t ponderous but neither is it zippy. The visuals aren’t nearly as eye-catching and in-your-face as a cartoon. Before you show your children The Chosen, you should make sure that they have developed the attention span needed to enjoy it. Without adequate attention, your children aren’t really going to be able to follow what’s going on and understand the significance of events - which kind of makes watching it pointless. There’s also the risk that your children will come to the premature conclusion that The Chosen (or perhaps even the Gospels) are boring. Before you show your children The Chosen, I would suggest showing them other films and shows with a similar pace and tone, just to make sure that they are ready.


Simon Z restraining a demoniac during an exorcism in The Chosen Season 3
Simon Z restraining a demoniac during an exorcism in The Chosen Season 3

Emotional Maturity/Sensitivity

Some of the events and topics in The Chosen are quite mature. The first episode alone depicts or alludes to: premarital sex/prostitution, demonic possession, violence, gambling, rape, heavy drinking, and suicide. Other episodes depict or allude to terrorism, extreme poverty, trauma, relapse, marital sex, adultery, illegitimate children, miscarriage, and ethnic conflict. Some of the more subtle allusions (e.g. to Mary’s rape) may go over your child’s head, but some subjects are pretty in-your-face (e.g. demonic possession, miscarriage). You’ll want to make sure that you’re ready to process these subjects with your children. And you’ll want to consider whether some of the darker moments of the show will be too terrifying/traumatic for your child, given how sensitive they are. The last thing you want is to watch The Chosen too early and for your children to be so scared during the demonic possession scene that they refuse to watch any more of the show.


Complex Thinking

My oldest child will soon be at an age where she could follow the Star Wars films well enough to be entertained. But she’s not yet at a place where she’d really follow/appreciate what’s going on in some of the key moments. I really want the “Luke I am your Father” reveal to hit her during her first viewing, and so my goal is to wait until she can make sense of and appreciate such a key twist.


I have a similar mindset with regard to The Chosen. The story, characters, and themes of the show are not simplistic. It’s not simply about good guys versus bad guys. Yes, there’s one GOOD guy. But all the other “good” guys are flawed and many of the “bad” guys are three-dimensional. Plus, the characters don’t always learn the lesson by the end of the episode. This is one of the strengths of the show, especially compared to many overly-didactic Christian films and shows. But it takes a certain degree of intellectual sophistication to be able to appreciate what the show is doing. The same goes for some of the twists in the narrative and the complex ways that The Chosen weaves together different storylines and themes. Until your children are able to follow and make sense of complex characterization and storytelling, I’m not sure if it’s worth watching The Chosen yet. After all, that’s really the main value-add for watching The Chosen compared to simply reading the same tale in a storybook Bible. 


Spiritual Formation/Maturity

I’ve kept the specific concern that you highlighted for my last point, but it’s an under-appreciated concern among fans of the show. Among the biggest critics of The Chosen, the idea that watching the show is idolatry or that it is selling a false Jesus is overblown. On the whole, I believe the creators of The Chosen have worked hard to capture the spirit and tone of the biblical Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that the show hasn’t embellished the biblical picture.


Embellishment is pretty much an inevitable result of adaptation. The Bible simply doesn’t tell us all that we would need to know in order to create a visual narrative about Jesus. We don’t know what he looked like, what tone his voice had when giving different lines, how he used body language, the kinds of things he said in-between his teachings and famous sayings. It’s up to Bible Artists and adaptors to make these kinds of creative decisions when depicting Jesus. And most (including the creators of The Chosen) have the humility to recognize that their decision may not always be 100% true to history - even if they are compelling/moving.


Jesus in The Chosen Season 4
Jesus in The Chosen Season 4

Because The Chosen is embellishing the biblical picture of Jesus, you might think that the safest thing to do would be to not let your children watch it. That way, you can keep their focus purely on the biblical picture of Jesus. But the reality is that virtually no one today focuses purely on the biblical picture of Jesus. Our world is awash in images of Jesus - historical art, religious icons, Sunday school videos, storybook Bibles - it’s almost impossible to keep your kids from seeing an image of Jesus somewhere. In fact, it is impossible, because even if you lock your kids up in your basement and only give them a Bible, they’ll still create pictures of Jesus in their own imagination. Because I know that my children will encounter extra-biblical pictures of Jesus - and that many of those pictures are either mediocre, historically inaccurate, or unhelpful - I don’t want to expend too much energy keeping them from a moving, accurate, and beneficial image. It’s far more productive to expose them to a variety of images (different genres, times, cultures) and to have a thoughtful conversation about why these images vary and what they all are ultimately pointing to (more on this below).


That said, if your child isn’t spiritually/intellectually mature enough to have some form of this conversation, I would consider holding off on watching The Chosen. Your kids should already have a basic but clear grasp of who Jesus is, what he did, and what it means to have faith in him before you introduce them to the show. They should also understand that the Bible, as God’s Word and the work of contemporary witnesses, is the only true account of who Jesus is. And they should have the wisdom to recognize that (unlike Scripture) The Chosen is not inerrant and its depiction of Jesus is a fictional signpost, not the ultimate Reality. Once they have a firm grasp on these fundamentals, The Chosen can help them go deeper in their understanding. But I would be wary of letting them watch the show before they are spiritually prepared.


How to introduce your children to The Chosen

The way that you introduce your children to The Chosen may be even more important than when you let them begin watching it. I’d encourage you to implement a few key practices:


Watch Together

Sometimes when I need to do something and need to occupy my kids, I let them watch an episode of a show that I know is wholesome for them. The Chosen is not the type of show that I would send my kids off to watch alone - at least not for a first viewing. You should be present when your kids watch so that you can observe how they are responding to the show and so you can help them process after they watch. And watching together is not just responsible parenting - it’s also a fun way to bond as a family.


Explain What You're Watching

Before watching The Chosen for the first time, it’s important to have an explicit conversation about what the show is and is not. Be clear that it is based on biblical stories but that it contains a great deal of fiction, including fictional characters, motives, and events. Be clear that it is not a replacement for reading the Bible. Be clear that it is not inerrant and that sometimes the writers get things wrong. If you have specific disagreements with how the show interprets or depicts certain events, share that - and explain that we can still enjoy the show in spite of its imperfections. You don’t have to go overboard and lecture your kids, but don’t send them in without any preface or context.


Discuss the Show Together

Some shows can be enjoyed without much after-thought. Others really reward those who ponder and discuss them with others. The Chosen is the latter. So much of what it is doing will be missed by your children if you don’t slow down and talk to them about it. And if your kids are younger and just beginning to develop the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual maturity needed to enjoy the show, they’ll especially benefit from being asked good questions and given space to talk things out. That doesn’t mean you have to do a full Bible study every time you watch the show. A few simple questions and an organic conversation may suffice. However, if you/your kids like to engage in a more structured, a Bible study (like mine) might be helpful.


Family watching a show together
Family watching a show together

(Continue to) Read Scripture Together

Don’t let watching The Chosen be the only form of spiritual engagement you have with your children. Before you ever watch The Chosen, you should be reading the Bible (either a storybook or an actual Bible, depending on age) together on a regular basis and having organic conversations about what you read. When you start watching The Chosen, don’t let that time reading and discussing the Bible disappear. That could subconsciously communicate to your child that watching The Chosen is a replacement for reading the Bible. Moreover, when you read a biblical story that you’ve also seen depicted in The Chosen, it’s a great opportunity to discuss changes that have been made and why. Reading the Bible together is also key time to have conversations distinguishing the Real Jesus from the fictionalized and embellished Jesus of The Chosen.


Enjoy Other Bible Art Together

The Chosen shouldn’t be the first and only extra-biblical image of Jesus that your children see. Before they ever watch The Chosen, expose your children to a variety of Children’s Bible storybooks as well as more formal artistic depictions of Jesus. Most of the time, you can simply enjoy the art together. On occasion though, you can have explicit conversations about the diverse ways in which Jesus is depicted . In doing so, you can train your child to have a discerning mind - and to enjoy the creative dimensions of Bible Art. This is important preparation for engaging The Chosen in a thoughtful manner.


View Fictional & Historical Adaptations Together

Just as The Chosen should be the first extra-biblical image of Jesus your children see, it also shouldn't be the first film adaptation that they watch. Before watching The Chosen, I would suggest reading a fictional book and then watching the movie based on it. After doing so, you can have a conversation about the changes that the film made and why it made those changes. You might also want to learn about a historical event and then watch a movie based on the event and have a similar conversation. Doing so will help you introduce your children to the idea of an adaptation and help them begin to grapple with some of the changes that adaptations make. This will serve as valuable context to help them make sense of the differences between The Chosen and the Bible.


Encourage Them to Maintain Spiritually Healthy Habits

We live in a time that’s being referred to as the “great dechurching” because of the large number of people - including people who still consider themselves to be Christian - who are no longer participating in church on a regular basis. It would be easy to treat The Chosen as a replacement for church (watch an episode and skip worship) - but doing so is a big mistake. The Chosen cannot give you what a church community should be providing. Watching will not provide you with an opportunity to know and be known by others; nor can a show hold you accountable or challenge you or call you to serve or speak into your life or pray with you.


Person reading Bible at church
Person reading Bible at church

If you’re worried about your children becoming too enthralled with TV Jesus, it’s essential for you to not let it displace essential habits of the Christian life that point them to Jesus. If you’re in a church community in which Jesus is preached and worshiped and prayed to, your children will realize that he is far bigger than a character in a show. Other habits - prayer, confession, personal Bible reading - will have the same effect. So don’t let your kids (or yourself) become so obsessed with watching The Chosen that they forsake other more important habits. If this creates conflict, make sure that they understand why they should prioritize traditional spiritual disciplines over the easier (and more entertaining) habit of simply watching a show.


Pause If Needed

It’s not likely, but if you sense that your kids are beginning to love the TV Jesus more than the real, biblical Jesus, you can always pause watching the show for a time. If that happens, you’ll want to identify what your kids are fixating on - and why. Try to not shame them or make them feel dumb but instead use the moment as an opportunity for spiritual conversation. 


You don’t have to feel guilty if an issue like this arises. As your children grow grow, you aren’t going to be able to keep them in a bubble, protected from all temptations and spiritual dangers. They’ll be exposed to it all at some point. Exposing your kids to measured doses of risk while you still have a degree of control over their lives is responsible. It will make it easier for you to notice and respond if they are falling prey to temptation. You seem like you are a thoughtful, discerning, and committed parent, so I’m confident that you will be able to tell if your children are beginning to have an unhealthy relationship to TV Jesus and you will have the wisdom to talk to them about it


Thanks so much C for reaching out and sharing your thoughtful question. I hope my response has been helpful. I pray that God will give you wisdom as you consider when and how you share The Chosen with your children and that he will use the show and the conversations that it sparks to bless your whole family.


Grace and Peace,

Kevin


 

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1 Comment


What a thoughtful and well-written article. Thank you, Kevin!

(By the way, what Vader actually said to Luke was: "No. I am your father!")

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