Dallas Jenkins on Jesus, the Christmas story, and “The Chosen”
“God is doing something significantly more transcendent than I’m capable of,” director says
Dallas Jenkins is the evangelical creator, director, co–executive producer, and co-writer of The Chosen, the globally successful series about the life of Jesus. The show was crowdfunded by fans and distributed by Angel Studios, a company founded by Mormons, but Jenkins retained control over the script and creative process. The director hopes to begin filming the third season in the spring, but before that, he’s eager for fans to gather in theaters for a new special, Christmas With the Chosen: The Messengers, which tells the Christmas story through the eyes of Mary and Joseph and opens Dec. 1. Here is an edited version of our conversation about the Chosen series, its effect on him, and his hopes for audiences.
Dallas, you have two seasons under your belt, a Christmas special coming up, and you’re hoping to do seven seasons total. What’s the easiest and hardest thing about keeping this project going? The easiest part has been the relationship with viewers. Their response to the show, their passion for the show, their financial sustaining of the show has carried this. God is doing an amazing work, and I feel very fortunate to ride the wave that God has begun. Viewers are responding, and they make it easy: When I come on and do a livestream for 90 minutes from my home and in a few hours we shatter the record for Fathom Events pre-sales or we generate enough money to finance an entire episode of the show, that’s easy. I don’t have to beg, borrow, and steal.
And the hardest part? The hardest thing is everything that leads up to those 90 minutes of the livestream, or the posts we do on Facebook or YouTube. Not one thing about this project has been easy. And that’s OK. That’s how God wants it in many ways, because that’s kept me broken and humble and surrendered. We never get to sit back and rest on our laurels. Currently, we’re writing Season 3, and when I open my computer and sit in front of a blank screen, that blank screen doesn’t care at all about the success of Season 2. It doesn’t care about the response that people had. It’s just this blinking cursor that’s taunting me and saying you still have to deliver something. That’s the hard part. Hopefully, I’ll just continue to maintain this surrendered posture so that I rely on God to sustain me more than myself.
How do you stay surrendered and humble during all the pressure, deadlines, criticism, and success? When someone comes up to you and says, “Your show changed my life,” or, “It brought my 70-year-old mother to Christ,” or, “My children are binge-watching it at 9 years old”—that actually makes it pretty easy to stay humbled and surrendered because I know I’m not that good. I know that the show is clearly bigger than me and that God is doing something significantly more transcendent than I’m capable of. The bigger it gets, the more immensely and profoundly it causes me to get to my knees. Because it’s obviously not possible that I could pull this off. I’m just not that good of a filmmaker.
I understand you and your wife do a lot of work with special needs kids. How did that come about? There’s a ton of special needs in my family and extended family, for whatever reason. There’s something in the genes that’s impacted pretty much every one of my cousins and siblings. It’s very close to home for us, and it’s been part of our ministry over the last several years. I think it’s also potentially been used by God to cause us to have that special place in our heart for those who can’t as easily understand certain truths and intellectual concepts. The show itself, by being a visual, audio experience, I think has had a significant impact on the special needs community in a way that perhaps a sermon might not. In the portrayal of Matthew, we made the decision to put him on the autism spectrum. The show for some reason God is using to get through to people with special needs in a really cool way. That’s been beautiful to see.
How do you feel The Chosen—the script, the acting, the camaraderie—has affected the cast? The cast and crew, most of whom have come into this project as somewhat unfamiliar with some of these stories—and they don’t necessarily have the same faith background that I do—at the very least have been profoundly impacted. We really just try to be different than what they might be used to, in terms of how we treat people and the way we approach the whole making of the show. But you can’t read these stories, you can’t know more about Jesus without being impacted in some way.
Why show so much behind-the-scenes footage during the first two seasons, and what are you hoping audiences will gain from that? My partner, Derral Eves, is a YouTube and social media brands specialist. He early on convinced me it’s very important to tell your story and for the audience to feel connected to you and to the project. I didn’t see it at first, but now I see that with a project this important and a story about the Man that so many people around the world worship, they need to trust that I’m going to steward the film properly, that I’m going to remain humbled and surrendered to the process. We want people to be in on that. I want fans to see authenticity not only on the show, but behind the scenes. Especially because they’re financing the show, literally. They don’t have to pay for it—the show is free. And in order for them to feel comfortable choosing to pay for it, they need to be comfortable with what we’re doing behind the scenes.
Between your writing and Jonathan Roumie’s acting, you’ve created a very plausible, approachable Jesus. How do you keep the balance of portraying Jesus as fully God and fully man? It’s a mystery theologians have debated for 2,000 years, and I don’t believe I’ve solved it by any means. How Jesus exhibited that in His everyday life, we don’t know for sure. But I do believe that because He was also fully man and the book of Philippians says He did not count equality with God as something to be grasped, He truly became one of us when He was here on earth. It’s clear that Jesus would have danced with His friends, and that as He says multiple times in the Gospels, “I don’t even know the hour of My return.” I believe there were things He truly experienced as a man, and that to me is the beautiful thing about the gospel story. Even the book of Hebrews talks about it. He truly suffered with us, and as one of us.
I also believe, of course, He had the Spirit of the Father in Him and was fully God. What all that looks like? It’s tough for me to grasp. But I do believe by stressing in our show His humanity, or at least portraying it in a way that hasn’t been portrayed as explicitly before, it is drawing people more into that relationship with Jesus. You think, wow, the Creator of the universe dressed His wounds, made His food, and danced with His friends at weddings. That makes me feel even more loved, and more sacrificed for—that the God of the universe truly did this.
What do you hope people come away with from the Christmas special? Two things. One is that Jesus was one of us for a time. The stable, the swaddling cloths, the circumstances of this teenager and her fiancé, and how in over their heads they were. And that Jesus was brought into the world, the greatest moment in human history, in such a plain, low-class way—it’s a reminder for us that He was with us, and He wasn’t so far above it all that He couldn’t identify with who we are.
And the second thing? Second is the importance of this phrase: “People must know.” The name of the special is The Messengers. That refers to the angels. The angels gave the news to the shepherds. The shepherds gave the news to the people. The angel gave the news to Mary and Joseph. Jesus then gave the news to the world. And we are called to give the news to the world. “People must know” is the theme of the show, and I want people to come away with that desire.
—WORLD has corrected this Q&A to reflect that Angel Studios’ is the distributor for The Chosen.
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