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A conversation with Dan Haseltine, Matthew Nelson, and Tony Evans - S10.E1

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WORLD Radio - A conversation with Dan Haseltine, Matthew Nelson, and Tony Evans - S10.E1

The musicians behind The Chosen soundtrack, and a pastoral take on racial reconciliation


Dan Haseltine, Matt Nelson, and Tony Evans

I’m Warren Smith, and welcome to a new season of Listening In.

Today you’ll be listening in on a pair of conversations I had at the recent meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville.

Later in the program we’ll hear from pastor and author Dr. Tony Evans.

But we get started today with songwriters and composers Dan Haseltine and cellist and composer Matthew Nelson. They are the musicians behind the soundtrack to the wildly popular streaming television series about the life of Jesus called “The Chosen.”

DAN HASELTINE: It's sort of Middle Eastern, Indian drone, Delta Blues, and a lot of like, slave spirituals were kind of the core of what we wanted to create. And putting those things together, we weren't sure if it was going to make a good sound or a bad sound or what, but it turned out to be a good sound. And it's definitely become the character of the show.

Dan Haseltine is best known as the front man for one of Christian music’s most popular bands, Jars of Clay. The band’s debut self-titled album, released in 1995, not only went to the top of the Christian charts, but crossed over to the secular charts, eventually selling more than 2 million copies.

The band’s second album, 1997’s “Much Afraid,” didn’t match the breakout success of their debut, but still managed to sell a million copies, and make it into the Top 10 on the Billboard album chart. Their third album, “If I Left The Zoo,” won a Grammy for best Gospel album and eventually went gold, with a half-million in sales.

The band has not officially broken up, though it is on more or less indefinite hiatus. Their last album came out in 2013. And the members have moved on to other projects. For Dan Haseltine, one of those projects has been to work on the soundtrack for the streaming television phenomenon “The Chosen.” His collaborator on that project is Matthew Nelson.

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WARREN SMITH, HOST: Well, Matthew and Dan, thanks so much for being on the program. And because you're both guys, and we're doing this together, why don't you both just say your full name so people can kind of get tuned into your voice?

DAN HASELTINE, GUEST: Sure. This is Dan Haseltine. And it's great to hear you and be with you and see you.

MATTHEW NELSON, GUEST: I'm Matthew Nelson, and I'm happy to be with both you fellas.

WS: Great. Well, it's good to be with you guys as well. Dan, you and I spoke probably, I think it was 2013 in Charlotte whenever you were touring with Jars. And at that time, you had, I think just had a heart attack. And you were recovering from that. And so let me just let me just start there. How's your health? How you doing?

DH: I am, I'm here. And I'm actually doing quite well. Yeah, that was sort of this freak, crazy thing. So people, pay attention to your heart and your body?

WS: No question about it. Yeah, it's the older I get, the more real that seems to me. But But we're here not to talk about health, right? Not to have an organ recital, but to talk about another kind of music. And, you know, the work that you guys are doing for The Chosen. Can we can we start with you, Matthew, and let's let's just, you know, so tell me about what y'all do and how you got involved in the project and how it's going so far.

MN: It's, well, the show has, I had no idea what I was signing up for when Dan texted me to be involved with it. Dan has been friends with Dallas for a long time and has worked with Dallas before. So since I had spent a little time touring with Jars, Dan for for some godly or ungodly reason, decided to pull me into working on The Chosen when Dallas reached out to him about it. And it's, the thing has just blown up and turned into turned into something that I don't think anybody had any idea it would be this big.

WS: Yeah, let me just pause. And Dallas is, of course, Dallas Jenkins, who's the creative force showrunner behind The Chosen. We've had Dallas on the show, by the way on this podcast before, so got a little bit of the backstory there. But Dan, since the relationship started with you, how did you know Dallas? And how did you get sort of pulled into this?

DH: Yeah, Dallas and I met years and years ago and and just struck up a conversation. He was actually, he was peddling books for his dad at the time and - who was Jerry Jenkins. And we found a mutual sense for a vision for what we wanted to accomplish with our artistic kind of expressions. And he, so he wrote me into a project called Hometown Legend years ago. And I did the music for him on that. And then he called me up when he was starting to think about this project called The Chosen and I told him I didn't want to have anything to do with it because I just didn't feel like that we needed another Jesus story out there right now. And…

WS: I think what you really mean is another cheesy Jesus story out there, right? Because every reason to believe that, hey, this might be a cheesy Jesus story.

DH: Yeah, which I shouldn't have thought that really, because knowing Dallas and knowing his his kind of eye and sense for creativity and what he wanted to accomplish, I should have known immediately that it was going to be different. But he eventually roped me in and said, yeah, this is going to be different. I'd really like you to be in charge of the music for this. So I pulled Matt in. And it's been just one of the greatest, most fulfilling kinds of creative endeavors that I've been a part of.

WS: Well, if you guys, Matthew, if you don't mind taking me kind of into the process just a little bit. You know, what does that look like? Are you writing full length original songs? Are you writing cues for the action? Are you doing both?

MN: Yeah, we're, we're mostly writing cues. And we're mostly composing those cues to, to the picture. So we get a rough cut of an episode. We watch through it several times. We make notes about where the music should be or shouldn't be. And that's some collaboration with Dallas, also. There's a little back and forth. And then once we decide where the music's going to go, then we're we're literally trying to follow the contour of the scene and pick the places and things that we want to underscore or put a line under in the scene. Yep.

WS: So what does that kind of feel like? In terms like, I would guess, I when I interviewed Dallas, for example, he said that he had kind of a ‘bible’ for the show. You know, what the vibe of the show was going to be, the story arc, kind of who that, you know, backstory on the characters, all this kind of stuff. And I would think in some way, you got to kind of do that with the music as well. In other words, you can't kind of do something that's, you know, Celtic, and then all of a sudden, you know, throw in a Moog synthesizer, or whatever, you know, from the 1970s into that, into that into that mix. Or yeah, like me, or maybe, or maybe you do, but, so, I mean, how do you how do you sort of, you know, make sure that you're still operating within the banks of the river, so to speak, but also kind of moving around and going with the current and the flow?

DH: That's a great question. And actually, we, we did early on come up with a palette of instruments and a sound that we wanted the show to to have. And it's really it's a combination of a few different things. It's it's sort of Middle Eastern, Indian drone, Delta Blues, and a lot of like, slave spirituals were kind of the core of what we wanted to create. And putting those things together, we weren't sure if it was going to make a good sound or a bad sound or what, but it turned out to be a good sound. And it's definitely become the character of the show. But our job, you know, our job is to be a support to whatever's happening on the screen. So when we identify the emotional space of it, like, our job is not to create music that people pay attention to. Our job is to create emotional signposts to help people keep moving forward in the story.

WS: Well, I get that. And I respect that, that perspective. On the other hand, if the music's not there, you really notice, right? And if the music is not right, you really notice. So it's gotta be there. And it's got to be right. And even though you don't want it to be dominant, it's it's, it's, you know, it's such a vital part of it. So what does that process collaboratively look like with Dallas? Because you know, you've got your palette. You go away, you write your stuff. You guys are happy with it, you know, with each other. Then you got to take it to Dallas, I'm assuming at some point, and he's got to say, yea or nay. Is that accurate?

MN: Yeah, pretty much. Yep. We, we send, we usually send, like a scene at a time or a cue at a time and to get to get his approval. And, and it's, and some of them are like, instant approval, and we're totally on the same page. And then there's occasionally we are, there have been a few scenes that we've completely misread and played in a different direction than what Dallas was thinking. And in some cases, Dallas has been cool to, he's a fun, Dan likes to call him a sparring partner because we have a, Dallas is like, if you if you can make a case for a creative decision that you want to make that he's initially against, you can hold a case for it, you can convince him to approach it differently. But yeah, anyway, there's Yes, he has

DH: And, and that I think that that speaks very well of Dallas, because when he, when he brings people into his creative projects, he brings people in that he trusts so that he doesn't have to micromanage everything and doesn't have to kind of over direct. And he's been great about that with us to allow us some freedom to elbow some space and take scenes in a different emotional direction than he might have initially wanted. And then we all just, we trust him. And so when we get it wrong, we're pretty quick to go okay, yeah, he's, his idea was better.

WS: Well, a couple of just lightning round questions about this. So you do you do an episode. How long are the episodes for The Chosen? Yeah, 42 minutes is what I was gonna guess. So in round numbers, how much music is in a 42 minute episode?

MN: It's probably about half about half the minutes of the episode. So like in a 50 minute episode, we've probably got 20 to 25 minutes of music. So.

WS: And and that's a whole season. And now you're into what, season two? Three, now? You're in season

MN: About to start three, yeah.

WS: So I mean, you know, I can without doing the math, that's a little bit higher math. But I mean, that's hours and hours of music. I mean, are we going to see a Chosen soundtrack album? Or a Chosen, you know, a Jars of Clay album and with music inspired from The Chosen or anything like that?

DH: We, there are two, there are currently soundtracks out for both first and second season now. So you can actually go anywhere where you find your music, and it's there. And then also, I think, on CD through thechosengifts.com. Right? So, but we, yes, there will be other projects, I think that will spin off creatively from from this on a music level, whether it's songs inspired by the show. There's a lot of artists that have really found some footing and writing, writing some amazing things, just based on their experience with the show. And so we want to help bring those things out, as well.

WS: Guys, I'd like to pivot if I could, in our conversation away from The Chosen and talk about Jars of Clay, just a little bit. I mean, you guys, I know when I interviewed you, Dan, in 2013, you guys were on tour and so on and so forth. You had I think that was about the time you had The Hymns album come out, maybe if I'm remembering, right. So, I mean, what what's the future of Jars? I mean, clearly, you guys are hanging out and you know, not beating each other up and pulling each other's hair out. And I'm in touch with Charlie a little bit from time to time. So I know he's out there in the world. I don't think he's doing music much anymore these days. But, but I may be wrong about that. So. So anyway, but enough of me. What do you say?

DH: Well, you know, I think with Jars, it's always about just wrangling the cats. You know, it's hard to get us all together these days. And I think we've just we've not found a lot of space for what we'd want to say in the the kind of the evangelical or Christian culture right now. I think we've, we've been trying to figure out you know, what is, what is our space in that and what language that we want to use. Because a lot of the songs we're writing these days are, individually even, they kind of have a little bit more of a confessional tenor to them. And it's not, it's not necessarily the space where the Christian entertainment is, is at right now. So, so I think we're just, we're kind of waiting. We're hanging out. We're honing our craft and, and hope that when we get inspired, we'll all get back together.

WS: How about you? Would you be in it? Would you be in?

MN: Oh, well, I, I'm down to I'm down. I'm not an original Jar. So I'm but I'm down to help decorate the jars and whatever configuration they decide to go with.

WS: Well, Dan you mentioned the evangelical space right now. And I know a couple of years ago, you got into some trouble for some social media stuff that you wrote. And you actually took a sabbatical from social media for a while. Are you still on that sabbatical? I think your…

DH: Life is so good. Life is so good to be on sabbatical from social media. I don't know what's going on in the world at all. It's really true. But, but I, yeah, I took a break. It wasn't really that that that made me take a break. That conversation, I think was a conversation that needed to happen. I think that we had to start asking, you know, how are we treating our brothers and sisters that are different from you or me?

WS: Yeah, just to be clear, you're a lot of your social media posts are about LGBTQ, especially transgender folks. And you know, you were, you were saying that. And, and but a lot of people took it to say that, you know that you have come out in favor of transgenderism, same sex marriage, all these other kinds of things.

Random person 11:46 We did not prep him. Oh, I didn't talk about okay, it's fine. But yes, okay. Yeah, if you're okay with it? Oh, yeah. Just yeah,

DH: No, this is fine.

WS: But in which, in other words, you were, in my view, completely misinterpreted or misrepresented online. And is, is that fair to say?

DH: Yeah, I mean, I think I think social media is a strange animal. I think, you know, what we've learned from psychologists and people is that when someone disagrees with you online, it feels more like a physical attack than it does just when someone disagrees with you in a face to face conversation. Like it's an actual different kind of chemical reaction that happens. And I think we didn't really know that back then. I think a lot of, you know, I love having conversations where I can kind of turn the cube and go like, well, what about this? What about this? And I'm not necessarily posing a position as much as I'm just saying, you know, gosh, is anyone else having this, does anyone else have this question? And I had really kind of developed a good core group of people that were invested in those conversations. And, you know, but always, if someone comes in from outside, and they don't know the context, and they don't understand the tenor, or the the mood of the conversation, they're going to just come in blindly and, and then react instead of respond. And so I think that's, that's really what happened. I was mostly sad. I'm always sad when I see evangelical culture react, instead of respond. Because we're better than that. Like we we actually have tools to care for people well, and to think critically, and to understand what it takes to love somebody well. But our social media engagement doesn't show that very well. And it's unfortunate.

WS: Well, Dan, first of all, thank you for, for being willing to, you know, and, Michael, I appreciate your perspective on that as well. I mean, I really do. But, but you know, it's but I appreciate those comments. Thank you. Let's sort of pivot back to you know, kind of where we started. Two seasons down, third season now, you said. Is it in the can or in production? Did you say?

MN: We're about to go into production? Yeah.

WS: And, you know, I think Dallas has said, I don't remember now, five, seven seasons. What's the number that he's talking about now?

MN: Seven is the number that we've heard. Yeah.

WS: And so as far as you know, I mean, anything can happen, right, but, but as far as you know, you're, you're in for the duration.

MN: Yeah. And, well, Dan and I are secretly hoping that, that it's gonna it's gonna just go off the rails somewhere toward the end, and there's gonna be like spaceships and dinosaurs and it's probably not likely, but we have a, yeah.

DH: We have a running joke. Dallas, just in one of the trailers, one of the previews for the upcoming season, can you just put Jesus on a dinosaur just for like a second in the trailer and, and let people kind of try to figure out what's going on?

WS: Well, now, I hadn't thought about that. But I tell you what I have thought about is, you, I'm a big fan of the TV series Breaking Bad. And in that final episode, they had that, that so now I'm drawing a blank on the song. But it was a one hit wonder song from the from the 70s. And about Blue, about something blue. Midnight blue. I can remember the name. Somebody will write in and tell me what it is. But anyway, it like caused a revival. So, so here's my fantasy is that Jesus will be preaching about Noah and the flood, and Flood will come up from Jars of Clay in the background. So, no chance of that?

DH: I don't know if there's a chance of that in the actual show. But you know, if people want to listen to the song, then by all means please do so.

That brings to a close my conversation with Dan Haseltine and Matthew Nelson. You can hear my 2013 conversation with Dan Haseltine by going to the World News Group website and typing his name into the search engine. It will pop right up. And you can hear a conversation I had last year with Dallas Jenkins, who is the showrunner for The Chosen, the same way. Go to wng.org, and type his name into the search engine.

Up next is my conversation with pastor and author Dr. Tony Evans.

Tony Evans has been a staple on Christian radio since the 1970s. In 1981, he founded the program The Urban Alternative, which is heard around the world. He’s also the pastor of Oak Park Bible Church, in Dallas, a church with nearly 10,000 in regular weekly attendance. In a survey done by Baylor University, he was named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English speaking world.

But Dr. Evans’ life has not been without challenge or heartache. His wife Lois died in 2019 after a bout with cancer. Nonetheless, Dr. Evans has continued to preach, and he recently published a book, Kingdom Race Theology, KRT, which he says is an alternative to Critical Race Theory, or CRT.

I had this conversation with Dr. Evans at the recent meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville.

WS: First of all, Dr. Tony Evans, welcome to the program. Why are you here at NRB? What are you? What are you talking about to folks this week?

TE: Well, a lot of it revolves around my book, Oneness Embraced: A Kingdom Race Theology. In light of all the divisions in our culture, we need a message of unity that's rooted in the Bible, because God is waiting on us. And so we're dealing with that subject based on that new book.

WS: So contrast and compare what you are saying to the world and to the church with say, what proponents of critical race theory are saying on the one hand, or maybe folks like Voddie Baucham are saying on the other hand. Where do you fall in that continuum?

TE: Well, CRT was basically born out of a sense of how laws have been ingrained in the structures of society, producing a form of systemic racism. And I'm saying to whatever degree that that is true, it does not provide a solution. It just provides an analysis. And people are fighting over an analysis when the kingdom of God should be giving solutions. And so we've taken, we've moved from CRT to KRT, Kingdom race theology based on Ephesians 2, which says one new man. So we should be focusing on the windshield and not on the rearview mirror, of what is the new thing God wants to do. We learn from the rearview mirror, but we live in the windshield. People are fighting in the rearview mirror. So we talk about reconciliation from a biblical point of view, which is reconciliation through service, not through seminars.

WS: So reconciliation through service, not these seminars. That's an interesting idea. What does that look like, though, as a practical matter?

TE: Well, what we've offered is a three point plan where churches can come together in every community across America. The first A is’Assemble’, a solemn assembly to call God's presence back into the unified community. Second, A is ‘Address’. Speak with one voice, what God has to say about the issues in the community, particularly related to race and division. The third A is to ‘Act’ in unison. Adopt every school, provide a mentors for at risk students so that every school is blanketed and will become the bridge between the police and the community. And then we have the acts of kindness cards, where you challenge everybody to do an act of kindness for somebody different than them, and pray with them, share the gospel with them. And if you get everybody doing that, then we are demonstrating good works with a good word, not as a program, but as a lifestyle.

WS: Dr. Evans, if I could maybe step back from your book just a moment and talk to you kind of more about the world and culture generally. You, I think you and I are pretty close to the same age. And, you know, I've been hearing about racial reconciliation since the 70s, the 80s, the 90s. Promise Keepers, you know, it just keeps it just keeps being talked about, doesn't necessarily keep happening. And I'm wondering, is your book a response to the fact that we just keep trying and not getting it right? Or that we just need a little bit of a push over the goal line? Or you, just where do you think we are? Are we, is it getting better or getting worse?

TE: Well, I think we're getting worse, because we're still picking fruit rather than dealing with root. And the root is the Imago Dei. You have to start with the image of God. And if you don't start there, then you'll just be reacting to cultural nuances, which are always shifting and changing. So we start with the image of God before birth and the image of God from from the womb to the tomb. James 3:9 says you can't even curse a person's dignity without damaging or speaking against the image of God. So once we can get rooted there, as the church, then we'll have something to offer the culture.

WS: Well, so given that, who are who Who do you look to? I mean, you know, I think a lot of people are looking to you. You're a pastor of a large church, and you have a large platform and I think, and I think, praise God, you know, you from where I sit, at least I think you have a really helpful and biblical perspective. Who do you look to?

TE: Well, you know, I look to a series of, of smaller pastors who are unknown, they're not, they don't have these big platforms, but black and white, they are doing doing reconciliation in their communities. Those are my models. I think the big names have a place and a platform and to preach, but that doesn't necessarily equal a function. So I've got these pastor connections across the country that are living it and doing it and they become my heroes.

WS: And they're living it and I'm not going to ask you necessarily unless you want to volunteer some names. If you want to tell me who some of those folks are. I'd be honored to hear that and I'm sure my listeners would. But, but what are they doing? Are they doing the the stuff that you're talking about? They're they're engaged, boots on the ground, dirt on their hands service?

TE: They have connected across racial lines and are working together not only for worship services, but for work. And you can see them ministering to those people who can do nothing for them in return, but they're doing it together and getting to know…you know, when you in a war, you don't care about the color, class, or culture of the man fighting next to you as long as he's shooting in the same direction you are. And so they've decided to attack a problem in their community together. And that's Kingdom business at work.

WS: Yeah. If you'll allow me to pivot again, Dr. Evans, because I don't have an opportunity to talk to someone to talk to you or someone like me very often. But you've been at this a long time. You've been a pastor a long time, scandal free, I should say. You know, there's been, you know, years and years of faithful ministry, for which I and I know many appreciate. What's been the secret to your success? How have you stayed humble and, you know, without sort of scandal and strife over the years? Yeah. Well, I heard that and I and actually, I was gonna, if you're willing to ask you about your wife. I know she, like you say she passed away a couple years ago. And I know that was hard. And, you know, sympathies for your loss. And, you know, God bless you in that. And but what have you learned? What did you learn as I mean, I'm guessing you as a pastor, you've done a lot of funerals before. And then this is kind of a different way to experience death, maybe then you have had in the past.

TE: Well, you know, we've had a lot of great influences in my life. A tremendous family, my wife, who passed away a few years ago, was a great bulwark for my life and ministry. Willing to be accountable, and to have people speaking to me with authority, and the grace and mercy of God. All of that. Yeah, we went through a tough season of losing eight people. My father and wife died within one month of each other. So I had to do both of their funerals, too. So, so I had to learn. And I'm still learning to believe in God's character above my circumstances. And as long as I appeal to his character, I can handle my circumstances. When I lose sight of his character, my circumstances can handle me. So it's a focus issue.

WS: So, and if I might ask this, and I'm not trying to put you on the spot. But you mentioned your wife or you know, your family and some other folks in your life to provide accountability. As their, it's got to be tough, though. You're a public figure. You can't go into the grocery store without people recognizing you. I mean, yeah, how do you have any spiritual disciplines in your own life that are, you know, that that help keep you humble and accountable?

TE: Well, I have some people. We have a great elder board in my church, and they, they love me, I love them. And they stay close to me. And out of that group, there is a smaller group that I am responsible to. And then I have a brother, who calls, a Christian leader, who calls me once a week, every week to check on me. And that helps me spiritually. We pray together. And then my time, I try to make my time in preparation for preaching also preparation for me.

WS: And by that you mean study and prayer?

TE: Study and prayer and, and reading what others have to say about similar circumstances that I'm facing or challenges in ministry that I'm facing.

WS: Well, you know, we talked a few moments ago about, you know, whether you think we're getting better or worse in terms of race relations. What do you think about evangelicalism generally? I mean, we there's a lot of really amazing things happening in the world today. I mean, God is still sovereign. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Let's stipulate all of that for the record. But we've also seen scandals with Ravi Zacharias and Jerry Falwell, Jr., and, you know, unfortunately, many, many others. Are these aberrations? Is this a cleansing and a purification that's happening in the church? Or is this a sign that we're in a really bad spot?

TE: It's a combination. So it's not one or the other. It's both/and. That's how God cleanses. But you've got a lot of faithful people who don't get publicized. And at the same time, God is doing a new work, either because he's preparing to come back in the short term. or he's doing a divine reset for the longer term. Either way, he's active.

WS: Right, right. Well, I appreciate that. I guess, finally, I just want to ask, how do you want to be remembered? I mean, I hope you have many, many years of ministry still ahead of you. Let's just say that first. But I think you'll agree with me, you've probably got more years behind you then ahead of you. And you've had some death enter your life in the last few years. Surely you've you know, had to think about, you know, that issue. How do you want to be remembered? How do you want Dr. Tony Evans to be remembered?

TE: I want to be remembered as a person who loved God, who loved people and made a difference for His Kingdom.

That’s Dr. Tony Evans, author, pastor, broadcaster, and elder statesman of the evangelical movement.

And that brings to a close a pair of conversations I had at the recent meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville.

Listening In comes to you from WORLD News Group, and this program is just one of the many benefits that comes with a WORLD subscription. To find out more visit WNG.org/subscribe.

Also, and as I mentioned at the top of the program, today’s show kicks off a new season for Listening In. I’ll be bringing you a series of 14 episodes that will take us well into the summer. But keep in mind, especially if you’re new to the program, that even when we’re off the air with new episodes, you can still listen to the archive of more than 400 interviews I’ve done over the past eight years by going to the World News Group website and using the search engine to find what you’re looking for. That’s WNG.org.

Tune in next week to hear my conversation with Chuck Marohn, the founder of the urban planning organization Strong Towns, which has grown into a grassroots movement to revitalize communities and transform cities and towns across America.

The producer for today’s program is Leigh Jones. Johnny Franklin is the technical producer. And Paul Butler is executive producer for WORLD Radio. I’m your host, Warren Smith. And you’ve been Listening In….

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