Movies

Movie Tuesday: By What Standard?

Originally published January 21, 2020

…it seems like evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, are in danger of loosening their commitments to…basic, Christian commitments. Dangerous ideologies like Critical Theory and Intersectionality are gaining inroads into the thinking of some leaders, churches and organizations.

These ideologies are even being promoted among some evangelicals as reliable analytical tools that can assist our understandings and efforts in gospel ministry.

The result is that, in the name of social justice, many unbiblical agendas are being advanced under the guise of honoring and protecting women, promoting racial reconciliation, and showing love and compassion to people experiencing sexual dysphoria.

By What Standard? God’s World, God’s Rules is a documentary that presses those questions by showing how godless ideologies are influencing evangelical thought and life.

If you’re a Southern Baptist – especially if you don’t know what’s going on in your denomination outside the four walls of your own church, and especially if you’re going to the Southern Baptist Convention as a messenger in a couple of weeks – you desperately need to watch this documentary.

Because our local churches are autonomous, many Southern Baptists think, “It doesn’t really matter what’s going on at the national level of the SBC as long as my church is doing well.” When you watch, you’ll see why that’s such a dangerous attitude to take. The insidious and sinful concepts of critical race theory, intersectionality, egalitarianism, and other false doctrines have made their way into our SBC seminaries – where your next pastor is currently being trained – into LifeWay, where your next Sunday school, women’s Bible study, or VBS curriculum is coming from – and into the national leadership of the SBC, which represents us and our denomination to the world.

But even if you’re not Southern Baptist, these concepts are almost certainly slithering in to your denomination or church as well.

Be ready by informing yourself.

Book Reviews, Entertainment, Movies

Redeeming Love: Rants, Raves, and Reviews

Can you stand one more piece on Redeeming Love? I don’t often jump on evangelical bandwagons, because, usually, by the time I’ve taken time to research and give serious thought to whatever the bombshell du jour is, other people have already said everything that needs to be said about it, and they’ve said it better than I can. Why add to the noise, right?

This time, even with everybody and her dog reviewing Redeeming Love, I’m not necessarily finding that to be the case. In fact, I’ve read, listened to, or watched half a dozen or so reviews of Redeeming Love from sources that seem to be trustworthy, and I’ve been disappointed in many of them.

But before I get too far ahead of myself, give me just a sec to set the stage…

All the Disclaimers and Caveats…

This article contains spoilers. The book has been out since 1991 (longer than some of you have been alive), the movie has been in theaters since January 21, and the internet is glutted with reviews, so I’m not going to worry about spoilers, and this article is geared toward those who are at least familiar with the story line of Redeeming Love. If you have somehow managed to escape the details of the book and/or movie and you don’t want to know what’s in it, stop reading now.

I am not recommending that you see the movie or read the book. I’m going to say some things in this article that are critical of some who have criticized the book and movie. I’m going to say things that you might see as less than a complete and total anathematizing of the book and movie. That doesn’t mean I think the book and movie are wholesome and good and that I’m telling you to read/watch it. I’m not. If you come away from this article thinking I’m making an affirming recommendation of the book or movie, you’re believing your own opinions that you’ve eisegeted into what I’ve written. And if you tell other people I affirm or recommend the book or movie, you’re lying, because I am flat out telling you right now, I’m not.

Whether or not you read the book or see the movie is an issue of conscience between you and God. What I’m trying to do is provide information and Scripture so your conscience can be biblically informed and you can prayerfully make a wise decision for yourself.

This article describes and speaks frankly about sex, body parts, and profanity. I’m obviously not going to be lurid, graphic, or gratuitous, and I’m not going to completely spell out profane words, but I’m not going to euphemistically beat around the bush, either. The movie contains profanity, and sex is a major theme of both the book and movie and the reviews. Neither are topics Christians should be ashamed of discussing with proper language and in the light of Scripture. Still, you know yourself. If you know you can’t handle partially redacted profanity, mentions of body parts, or a discussion of sex in a biblical context, stop reading now.

Men, I’d like to remind you that this is a blog for women. I know there are a few of you out there who use this blog as a tool for ministering to the women of your church or your family, and I’m totally fine with that. However, as I mentioned above, this article speaks frankly about sex, to women. I’m not a man. I don’t think with a man’s brain or visualize with a man’s imagination. I don’t know how this article’s descriptions of the sex scenes in the book or movie – while something mature Christian women ought to be able to handle – might impact a man. If there is any chance whatsoever that reading such descriptions might tempt you to sin, please stop reading now.

I have both read the book in its entirety and seen the movie from beginning to end. I read the book in early January 2022 (recently – not 20 or 30 years ago) and saw the movie when it was released in theaters in late January 2022. In most of the reviews I imbibed, the reviewer clearly said he or she had either not read the book, had not seen the movie, or both. Because of this, many of these reviews contained inaccuracies, and many others have repeated those inaccuracies ad infinitum online. I am giving you first person, eyewitness testimony to what I’ve read and seen.

Additionally, the reason I read the book and watched the movie was not for personal entertainment (I don’t like romance novels, “Christian” or not.), but because I was getting questions about them and hearing criticisms of them. Ergo, when I read the book and watched the movie I did so with a critical eye, taking copious notes, and looking for the problematic issues I was hearing about. If you read something in this article that conflicts with another review you’ve read, I would encourage you to consider, and weigh heavily, whether or not that reviewer actually read the book and/or watched the movie, and whether or not he or she may have made a mistake or unintentional misstatement.

It is my understanding that Francine Rivers originally wrote Redeeming Love as a relatively new Christian, and that, over the ensuing years, it has been edited and revised several times to take out a lot of the raciness and add in more godliness. I say this because the version of the book I read was the 1997 edition. If you read an earlier or later edition that was more or less objectionable that the one I read, your impression of the book may be different from mine. However, I can only comment on what I’ve read.

It’s back, and it brought friends. Since the original publication of Redeeming Love, both a “companion guide” and a devotional based on the book have been released (neither of which are covered in this article). Y’all, Redeeming Love is not the Bible or a Bible study – it is a novel. Please don’t purchase these books and think you’re doing a “Bible study”. You’re not. Bible study is studying the Bible. If you want to do a Bible study on Hosea, pick up your Bible, turn to the book of Hosea, and study it.

The Backstory

Redeeming Love is categorized as a Christian fiction romance novel. Written by Francine Rivers, the book was originally published in 1991, and the movie version of the book was released in January 2022. It has been described as a “retelling” or “modernization” of the story of Hosea and Gomer from the Old Testament book of Hosea.

Set during the California Gold Rush of the mid 1800’s, the story centers around main characters Michael Hosea, a godly Christian farmer, and Angel, the local boomtown’s most sought after prostitute. In the book, Michael hears God telling him to marry Angel. He pursues her and they eventually marry. During the first few years of their marriage, Angel leaves Michael on multiple occasions for a variety of reasons, sometimes returning to her life as a prostitute. Eventually, she realizes that Michael truly loves her and that she loves him. She returns to him for good, and they live happily ever after. (If you’d like a more detailed summary of the book, this one is accurate and concise.)

What’s in the Book and the Movie?

A few positives…

There are a few positive things about the book, and this wouldn’t be a fair review if I didn’t at least mention them:

❦ A few minor vocabulary errors aside, Francine Rivers is an engaging and skilled writer. Even though I don’t enjoy reading romances, she drew me in and made reading this book a pleasant experience.

❦ There is one aspect of the book I think everyone can agree is wholesome. Unless I accidentally missed something, I did not notice one use of profanity in the entire book. I wish I could say the same of the movie.

❦ Another wholesome aspect of both the book and movie is that it’s made abundantly clear that sex prior to and outside of marriage is wrong. Obviously, prostitution and sexual abuse were portrayed as immoral, but both the book and the movie show Michael going to great lengths on multiple occasions to fight sexual temptation, and he refuses to have sex with Angel before they are married, even when she pushes him to. In the book, Paul similarly restrains himself from Miriam (this scene isn’t in the movie). I think that’s needed and praiseworthy in Christian fiction (not to mention in church) these days.

❦ In our society, marriage is often viewed as practically disposable. One of the themes of Redeeming Love is that a marriage, a spouse, is worth fighting for. We don’t cut and run when things get hard. We stick with it. We die to self. We try harder.

❦ The book is leaps and bounds better than the movie in nearly every regard. The movie is essentially a hollow shell of the book (and not in a good way). Normally, when people make a movie adaptation of a book, they cut out all but the most essential parts of the book in order to focus on and give weight to the central story line. With Redeeming Love, it felt like they tried to cram everything in and give every part of the book at least a cameo appearance, almost as though they used the CliffsNotes of the book for a script. Thus, a scene in the book that takes three years’ time, allowing you to feel the distress, pining, and heaviness of the situation takes about ten seconds on the screen, and you get virtually nothing substantive out of it.

Redeeming Love is NOT a “retelling” of the story of Hosea.

This is the thing that bothered me the most about the book and movie, and to be brutally honest, I’m disappointed that more Christians aren’t making this point. It’s not a “retelling,” an “adaptation,” a “modernization,” or any of the other descriptors I’ve read, any more than Jack and the Beanstalk is a “retelling” of the story of David and Goliath or Cinderella is a “modernization” of the story of the woman at the well. Redeeming Love is fiction “inspired by” Hosea like Mormonism is fiction “inspired by” Christianity.

Francine Rivers borrowed the name “Hosea” and the barest of bones from the skeleton of the book of Hosea and wove her own story from her own imagination around them. There are numerous differences between the two actual stories:

  • Gomer wasn’t necessarily a prostitute. Angel was.
  • Gomer was willfully adulterous, not a victim as Angel was.
  • God doesn’t give any apparent reason to Michael for why he’s to marry Angel, but immediately explains to Hosea why he’s to marry Gomer.
  • Angel was rendered unable to conceive, then miraculously had four children, while Gomer was never infertile
  • Gomer’s children were vital to the plot of Hosea, and Angel’s only get a brief mention in the epilogue

…and so on. But that’s just window dressing.

Redeeming Love is not any sort of “retelling” of Hosea because Hosea is not a story about the love between Hosea and Gomer. Hosea is about God’s people whoring (His word, not mine) after idols, and God warning them of the wrath to come if they don’t repent and turn back to Him. Hosea and Gomer are an illustration – an object lesson – to Israel of their unfaithfulness to the Lord. Gomer and Hosea themselves, and their marriage, are barely mentioned in the book of Hosea.

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”

Hosea 1:2

And there’s another major structural and thematic difference between Redeeming Love and Hosea that renders them two different stories rather than one a retelling of the other. Angel starts off as a child conceived in adultery, unwanted and rejected by her father. Angel’s mother then becomes a prostitute – unable to properly care for her – and dies, functionally abandoning Angel. Next, Angel is sold into sex slavery, and when she escapes, becomes a prostitute. She’s never had someone who loves her, provides for her, protects her, and is out for her flourishing until Michael comes along. She’s never had it good, and she doesn’t know anything different.

That’s not Israel’s story. Israel had a good Father who lovingly created them and wanted them. He cared for them deeply, providing everything they needed, protecting them, and blessing them. He is the Father who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”. Israel had it good – as good as it gets – and they knew it. And they threw it away with both hands to prostitute themselves to idols.

Redeeming Love is not the story of Hosea. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Extra-biblical revelation

One thing present in the book that was noticeably absent from the movie was God speaking directly to Michael, (and, near the end of the book, to Angel). Theologically speaking, as far as I’m concerned, the less public promotion of extra-biblical revelation, the better. But from a literary standpoint, I thought the absence of God telling Michael to marry Angel was a gaping plot hole. I mean, what honorable guy just ups and decides, “I think I’ll marry a prostitute who hates my guts,” for no particular reason, right? What’s his motivation for marrying her?

But getting back to the theology…It was appropriate and biblical for God to speak to Hosea. Hosea was an Old Testament prophet. Michael is a 19th century New Testament Christian. God doesn’t speak to Christians today like He spoke to Old Testament prophets.

“[God] talks to you personally?“

“He talks to everyone personally. Most people just don’t bother to listen.“

Redeeming Love, chapter 10, page 132

But, then again, extra-biblical revelation does fit right in with the rest of the fiction in this story.

Profanity

As I mentioned, there isn’t any profanity in the book. There is in the movie, although I don’t recall any of the reviews I read/listened to/watched mentioning that. Why not? Isn’t profanity just as sinful to our ears as sex scenes are to our eyes? Or have we just become jaded to it? It’s something for all of us (including me) to think about.

In case you are interested in knowing such things, in the movie, I noted the following instances of profanity: SOB (once), b–ch (twice), the p-word for “urinate” (twice), and a** (once) all by various unsaved characters. No f-words, no s-words, no BS. It was not a constant barrage of foul language, but rather seemed as though they sprinkled just enough profane words in (along with other things) to attain a PG-13 rating. (And that’s something else we should be thinking about – A so-called “Christian” movie trying for a more evil rating, so that more pagans will attend and supposedly hear the gospel? {see Francine Rivers’ quote below} How warped is that? And speaking of pagans hearing the gospel…)

Redeeming Love can’t redeem anybody because there’s no gospel in it.

Of the movie, Francine Rivers said,

I hope people flood into theaters to see how God brings beauty from ashes and that faith in Him alone, whose love changes us from the inside out, will sustain us through whatever comes.

Beginning on page 465 of the book, in an appendix entitled “Why I Wrote Redeeming Love,” Rivers describes her own conversion experience at some length, then says,

Too many have awakened one day to discover they are in bondage and they have no idea how to escape. It is for people such as these that I wrote Redeeming Love – people who fight, as I did, to be their own gods, only to find in the end that they are lost, desperate, and terribly alone. I want to bring the truth to those trapped in lies and darkness, to tell them that God is there, He is real, and He loves them – no matter what.

It’s a very nice sentiment, but this sentiment is not the gospel, nor does she clearly present the gospel in this appendix nor anywhere else in the text of the book. (And the movie didn’t even come that close to the gospel.) The closest thing I found to the gospel in the book was this scene near the end when Angel supposedly gets saved in the little church she has been attending (this scene is not in the movie):

“Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?“ the pastor asked her. “I believe,“ she said with grave dignity and closed her eyes briefly. Oh God, forgive my unbelief. Make my faith larger than a mustard seed, Jesus. Let it grow. Please. “And do you give your life to Jesus now before these witnesses? If so, would you signify by saying I do?“…She needed God. She wanted Him… and now that she knew He really was there, He was holding out his hand to her and making a proposal.… Turning her toward congregation, [the pastor] said, “This is Angel. A new sister in Christ.”

Redeeming Love, chapter 32, p. 428-429

This is a perfectly fine scene if all you’re trying to do is communicate to a Christian audience, that already knows the gospel, that a character in the story got saved. But if you’re depending on this to convert a real life sinner whose very real eternity hangs in the balance…no. This is not a “gospel” capable of saving anybody.

The gospel is this: You are a sinner. You have rebelled against the holy God of the universe, breaking his law by nature and by choice, and you are on your way to an eternity in Hell as punishment for your sin. But God, in His mercy and grace, loved you so much that He didn’t want you to have to take the punishment for your own sin. So He sent His only Son, Jesus, to live the perfect life you could never live and die for your sins in your place on the cross. Then, he rose from dead on the third day, to guarantee the salvation of all who bow the knee to Him. If you will repent of your sin and place your faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as the payment for your sin, He will forgive you, make you clean, and give you eternal life.

That’s the gospel. Not, “God is there, He is real, and He loves you – no matter what.” Not even, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?” because we know even the demons believe that – and shudder. If you want people to get genuinely born again, you have to spell out the entire biblical gospel for them: sin, repentance, faith, Jesus, the cross, the resurrection. These veiled allusions to some nebulous, generic concept of God’s love, or wishing and hoping that someone will sneeze in God’s general direction is not the gospel, and it doesn’t save anyone. All it does is create people who think they’re saved but are still on their way to Hell.

These veiled allusions to some nebulous, generic concept of God’s love, or wishing and hoping that someone will sneeze in God’s general direction is not the gospel, and it doesn’t save anyone.

Could the book or movie remind someone of her own sin and be used by God as part of the conviction process in her life? Sure. But she’s going to have to get the actual gospel that saves from the Bible, a Christian friend, or the preaching of the Word, because she’s not going to get it from Redeeming Love.

As much as Francine Rivers has talked about how she wants Redeeming Love to lead people to Christ, she has done nothing in the book or movie to help make that happen. What a incredibly huge waste of a gospel opportunity.

Relationship Lust

It doesn’t come across nearly as much in the movie as it does in the book, but Michael is the impossibly perfect man. I summed it up in my notes thusly: “Michael is too perfect and their life on the farm is too romanticized. You’re not thrilled with each other every moment of the day.”

I think even Francine Rivers realized Michael was too perfect because one of the themes in the latter part of the book is that Angel had come to regard Michael as her savior and that she needed to stop that idolatry and turn to God instead. But instead of developing that theme (which could have been a phenomenal segue into an actual gospel presentation), Francine shoots herself in the foot by continuing to present Michael as perfectly loving, patient, understanding, self-sacrificing, never sinning, never leaving his socks on the floor or tracking mud into the house. Why wouldn’t Angel idolize the perfect man?

And why wouldn’t you? We would all like for the men in our lives to be more like Michael, wouldn’t we? And I believe that aspect of Redeeming Love – the perfect man, the perfect romance, the perfect relationship – is much more dangerous to Christian women than sex scenes in the movie or any sexual innuendo in the book. Because, generally speaking, women are far more prone to lusting after a man’s heart than lusting after his body. We covet love more than we covet sex.

Generally speaking, women are far more prone to lusting after a man’s heart than lusting after his body. We covet love more than we covet sex.

I put it like this in my article The Mailbag: Christian Fiction Recommendations:

I would also caution women away from…Christian romances if they cause you to create an idol in your heart of the “ideal” man that no real life man can measure up to. If you’re married, read a lot of romances, and find yourself increasingly dissatisfied (in any way) with your husband because he can’t hold a candle to the leading men in the books you’re reading, you need to put those books down and walk away from them. That’s coveting.

Sex Scenes in the Book

As I mentioned, I decided to read the book because I was hearing from my followers about problematic issues with it. One of those issues was “graphic,” “explicit,” or “pornographic,” (words that were used by multiple people) “sex scenes” in the book (I’m not talking about the movie right now).

To describe any of the sex scenes in the book… I’m sorry, but I can’t, in good conscience really even call them “sex scenes,” because the author didn’t really paint any “scenes” for the reader. There was no clear description of any sex acts, sexual responses, or body parts. It was more like sex was hinted at, alluded to, or implied. It was up to the reader to assume that sex had taken place, and up to the reader’s imagination to paint (or not – I opted for “not”) the “scene”.

To describe any of the sex “scenes” in the book as “graphic,” “explicit,” or “pornographic” can only mean a) a person doesn’t have a good grasp of the actual definitions of those words (the sex “scenes” in the book were implicit, not explicit), b) a person thinks any mention of sex outside the Bible or the confines of her marriage is graphic, explicit, or pornographic (see “a”. The Bible actually does talk about sex graphically and explicitly in places – much more graphically and explicitly than Redeeming Love does.), or c) you’re eisegeting into the text of the book the graphic, explicit, and pornographic pictures your own mind painted.

That being said (if you skipped the “disclaimers and caveats” section at the beginning), none of this means I’m saying the book was wholesome, beneficial, or good, nor does it mean I’m recommending that you read the book. I’m not.

What I’m trying to do is cut through the hyperbole on the internet (which, again, is often coming from people who didn’t even read the book or watch the movie) and give you a more accurate, objective picture of what is actually in the book so you can reject it on the basis of fact, not hype. “Suggestive” is, in reality, not the same thing as “pornographic,” but “suggestive” can still cause you to sin, and the Bible clearly says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Flee also youthful lusts…

[Potiphar’s wife] caught [Joseph] by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.

Matthew 5:27-30, 2 Timothy 2:22a, Genesis 39:12

There’s no difference between watching (actual) pornography on a screen and watching pornography in your head that was created by your own imagination. If “suggestive,” “implied,” or “innuendo,” starts up the projector in your head, you shouldn’t be reading or watching Redeeming Love or any other book or movie like it. You need to flee from it like Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife. You need to gouge out that right eye or cut off that right hand by staying away from it.

Nudity and Sex Scenes in the Movie

The nudity and sex scenes in the movie were much more objectionable than the innuendo in the book, and I certainly understand, support, and stand in solidarity with Christians who are biblically convicted about and reject viewing such things. I don’t like them myself.

But again, there’s misinformation flying around out there because people are reviewing or talking about a movie they haven’t seen. People have said the movie has “numerous” and “lengthy” sex scenes. That’s not what I observed. People have talked about nudity in the movie as though images of male and/or female full frontal and/or full rear nudity occurs in the film. It doesn’t. People have equated the movie with pornography. Y’all, I’m sorry I’m able to say this, but I have had the misfortune of having seen instances of pornography with my own eyes. The only way you can put this movie on the same level as pornography is if you’ve been blessed (and I hope you have) never to have seen pornography in your life. But if you haven’t, then you really don’t know what you’re talking about and you should choose a different word for comparison.

Here’s what is actually in the movie as far as sex and nudity are concerned:

Nudity:

There is no nudity, male or female, from the waist down. None. You do not see any bottoms, penises, or vaginal areas. The only male “nudity” in the movie at all is a few scenes in which one of the male characters is shirtless. Whether or not that causes you to lust, most people don’t consider male shirtlessness to be “nudity,” so I didn’t make any notes on that.

There are a few scattered instances in which it’s obvious Angel is topless, but you don’t actually see her full bare breasts (and believe me, I was looking carefully since this was one of the major complaints about the movie – but do remember I was watching this in a theater and didn’t have the ability to pause, rewind, or use slow motion).

The first instance of “nudity” occurs when Angel is still a prostitute, during Michael’s first visit to her. There is a direct shot of Angel from the back, standing up, with her long hair hanging down. The camera cuts off at waist level. There is a direct shot of Angel from the front, standing up, with her long hair hanging down and completely covering her breasts. Literally no part – top, bottom, side, or front – of her breasts was visible. (I have seen women in public wearing dresses and swimsuits with plunging necklines that covered less breast.) Again, the camera cuts off at the waist.

In a scene that takes place after Angel has left Michael and gone back to prostitution, Angel is topless, but clothed from the waist down. She is sitting sort of sideways and backwards in a chair in such a way that her long hair and the back and arm of the chair completely cover her breasts.

In a sex scene between Angel and Michael, it is obvious that they are both unclothed, but you do not see any bare sexual body parts. They are either covered from the waist down or the camera cuts off at waist level. Angel’s breasts are either covered or blocked from the camera by Michael’s arm.

Finally, there’s a scene in which Angel is bathing in a creek and scrubbing herself vigorously because her sin has made her feel dirty and she wants to feel clean. In that scene, the camera is not square on with her back, but slightly off to the side, about halfway between square on to her back and square on to her right profile. She is standing in waist high water, which is opaque from that angle, so you don’t see anything below the waist. Her long hair and arms are covering her breasts, but, at one point, as Angel is scrubbing, she moves her right arm in such a way that you do see a split second of the side of her breast from armpit to near the front of the breast. (It happened extraordinarily fast, but as far as I could tell, her nipple wasn’t visible.)

That was the extent of the nudity I observed in the movie. Again, I’m not saying this was appropriate or good, I’m just saying it wasn’t nearly as bad as some have implied or made it out to be.

Sex Scenes

First let’s define our terms. Much like the difference between “implicit” and “explicit” sex “scenes” as I touched on above regarding the book, in the movie, there are “sex scenes” and scenes in which sex is implied. Let me first give you an example of the latter: When two fully clothed characters, who maybe aren’t even touching each other, walk into a bedroom together and shut the door between themselves and the camera, and that’s the end of the scene, but you’re supposed to infer that sex has taken place – that’s not what the overwhelming majority of people in our culture would consider a “sex scene.” That is a scene in which sex has been implied. When two characters are ripping each other’s clothes off, rolling around in the bed, and, even if covered, look like they’re actually having sex, that’s a “sex scene.” You may personally find both types of scenes objectionable, and that’s fine, but it’s unfair and confusing to others (especially in a movie review) to equate or conflate the two.

There were two (not “many,” not “numerous” – two) sex scenes in the movie. They both take place between Angel and Michael after they are married. The fact that they’re married doesn’t magically change the actual content of what you see on the screen (and we’ll get to that in a sec), but it should make a difference in how you perceive the morality of the story. Married people have sex. Young, hormone-crazed newlyweds have a lot of sex. It is healthy, right, and good for Christian married couples to have vigorous, enthusiastic, and joyful sex to the glory of God. That shouldn’t be news to anybody. (In fact, it might interest you to know that studies have shown that Christian married couples report having a better, more frequent, and more satisfying sex life by a long shot than either single people or non-Christian married couples. But I digress…)

It is healthy, right, and good for Christian married couples to have vigorous, enthusiastic, and joyful sex to the glory of God. That shouldn’t be news to anybody.

The first sex scene is the one most Christians will find the most objectionable (not because of the morality of the story line – this is between a husband and wife – but because of what you actually see on the screen). Here’s what you see:

  • Michael slides his hand up the side of Angel’s leg. The camera cuts away when his hand reaches her upper thigh. Angel is wearing what amounts to a floor-length nightgown when he does this, so all you see is the side of her leg between her knee and upper thigh.
  • Angel unbuckles Michael’s belt, and he unbuttons her top. You don’t see any body parts during this part. Everything is still covered.
  • Next, you see Angel on her back on the bed with Michael poised over her. As mentioned above, it’s obvious you’re to infer that she’s nude, but she’s covered from the waist down, and you don’t see her breasts because Michael’s arm is between them and the camera. All you see of Michael’s body is his bare back (below the waist is covered or cut off by the camera).
  • There is some writhing and and a bit of moaning.

All of the above took about 15-20 seconds of screen time. The whole scene, from the time they enter the bedroom to the time when the camera cuts to another scene, took maybe 60-90 seconds total.

In the second sex scene, Angel and Michael have gone out to a romantic spot on the hillside. The are both fully clothed throughout the entire scene. In fact, they are so fully clothed, it’s hard to imagine how they’re actually physically able to have sex (I’m assuming they were supposed to be having sex, but even now I’m not 100% positive.). You don’t see any of the necessary clothing being removed or even loosened.

Michael is lying on his back, and Angel straddles his pelvis. She is wearing a long, full skirt, so the straddling movement is covered. After that, everything else you see is from the waist up (again, fully clothed). There is a bit of kissing, writhing, and some moaning. In my estimation, the entire scene lasted about one minute.

The reason I’ve given you a time estimate on each of these scenes is that I’ve seen reviewers and others describe these sex scenes as “lengthy,” and “long and drawn out.” Unless you define those terms as “it shouldn’t be in the movie at all, so any appearance of it whatsoever is too long” (which is not the definition of “lengthy” or “long and drawn out”), I don’t think most people would say that one to two minutes of a two hour and fifteen minute movie is “lengthy” or “long and drawn out.”

The scenes were objectionable, and a lot of people are going to be offended by them. I make no excuses for those parts of the movie. But if it gives you any sort of comparative perspective, I’ve seen as bad or worse sex scenes on network TV…and quickly flipped the channel. (And, yes, I realize that’s not saying much. Network TV is a sewer these days.)

Abuse

You know how some people faint or throw up at the mere sight of a drop of blood? I’m not sure why, but my reaction to abuse scenes (physical or sexual) in movies is almost that strong. For example, I will never watch the movies I Can Only Imagine or Shawshank Redemption again because I can’t handle the abuse scenes in those movies. In fact, when I heard reviewers saying there were numerous and graphic scenes of abuse in the movie, I started feeling anxious and considered not seeing it.

I tell you all of this as a foundation for saying that even as someone who is very sensitive to that sort of thing, my impression of the physical and sexual abuse scenes in both the book and the movie is that they were implied and understated, not graphic.

In the movie, you see things like little girls (fully clothed) milling around in the common areas of a brothel. You hear a little girl crying in one of the rooms of the brothel. You see Angel telling the clientele in the brothel, “Duke fancies little girls,” and then leading those little girls out of the brothel to their rescue. You see men going into or coming out of prostitutes’ rooms, paying prostitutes, or getting dressed. You know what’s going on – not because you’re seeing the sex acts acted out on the screen – but because hints have been dropped and your brain has filled in the blanks. That can be really sad and scary, but that is not the movie being graphic. That is what your imagination is conjuring up.

For the most part, the book was even more tame than the movie. If you did not already know what sexual abuse was, you probably wouldn’t have understood what the book was alluding to in most of those scenes. However, the scene in the book in which Magawan severely beats Angel is moderately descriptive, whereas the movie doesn’t show the actual beating (the camera shifts off of them and you see things like furniture jostling around).

I don’t think most people, even if you’re sensitive like me, would find Redeeming Love’s allusions to abuse graphic. However, if you or your child have ever been physically or sexually abused you will probably find Redeeming Love (both the book and the movie) triggering, and in my estimation, it’s not worth putting yourself through that kind of pain and anxiety for no greater return than the possible enjoyment of a work of fiction.

Notable Quotes and Miscellaneous Thoughts

There’s a line in the movie (it’s not in the book) during the scene in which Paul tells Angel she has to “pay” him with sex for giving her a ride back to town that begins, “I never made it upstairs in the Palace [the brothel where Angel worked]…”. I can’t even bring myself to type the rest of the line, I was so nauseated by it. It was not graphic, but it was a gross double entendre.


I found the part of the book (and the scene in the movie that implies it) in which Angel admitted that, as a prostitute, she had sex with her father (to get back at him for rejecting her) to be very stark. It wasn’t that the scenes themselves were graphic, but rather the weight of evil I felt at the thought of someone sinking so far into depravity. There are real, flesh and blood people walking around out there today, drowning in the depths of that blackness. They desperately need Jesus. We must share the biblical gospel with them that Redeeming Love fails to share.


Ch. 33, p. 454- “Some Catholic priests [the ones who helped Angel set up Magdalena House] were a lot like Michael. Devoted to God, humble, patient, and loving.” Francine Rivers apparently doesn’t know this, but Catholicism is antithetical to Christianity and to Scripture. A Catholic priest could never be biblically described as “devoted to God.”


Ch. 33, p. 461- When Angel arrived home to Michael: “Weeping, Angel sank to her knees. Hot tears fell on [Michael’s] boots. She wiped them away with her hair.” This is an obvious reference to the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Personally, it struck me as borderline blasphemous.


I absolutely despise actors faking Southern accents, and the actor playing Michael is one of the worst fakers I’ve ever had the nerve-grating displeasure of enduring.


In the book, Michael considers “Angel” to be Angel’s “prostitute name,” so he calls her by a variety of other names – Mara, Tirzah, Amanda – before he learns hear real name (on the last page of the book). I found that distracting and slightly annoying. Michael did not do this in the movie, which was good, because as fast as the movie moved, it probably would have been very confusing for anyone who had not read the book.


I liked the scene in the book in which Angel, escaping the brothel, steps onto the stage and sings Rock of Ages. I thought that was really impactful and powerful and I was sorry that scene did not make it into the movie.


Surprise, surprise…Roma Downey, who has been working on “Bible-ish” and “Christian-like” movies since 2013’s The Bible miniseries on The History Channel, was the executive producer of Redeeming Love. How sad that none of these movies have shared the gospel with her.


Francine Rivers stated that she wanted the book and the movie to bring readers and viewers to Christ. I have to wonder – what kind of impression of the Bible, the gospel, Christians, Christianity, and Jesus did Redeeming Love make on all of the lost people who starred in or helped make the movie?

What do they think of a Jesus whose followers say to actors and actresses, “Take off your clothes in front of these dozens of cast members, directors, camera men, makeup people, and other staff so we can make a movie about God’s love.”? What does it say to them when two actors who aren’t married to each other are told – by Christians who supposedly want to bring people to Jesus – to simulate sex in order to create a “retelling” of a book of the Bible – the same Bible that would say that very simulation is sin?

Is this not spiritual abuse and a subtle form of sexual abuse? Something is very wrong with this. It’s so much worse than pragmatism, I’m not sure there’s a word for it. And, honestly, I think this aspect of the movie (or any movie or TV show) is a much better, more powerful, and more profound reason for rejecting it and refusing to fund it by paying the price of admission than seeing a split second of side boob or being subjected to a sex scene.

Reviewing the Reviews,
Commenting on the Comments

Read or watch if you’re going to review. If you think a book or movie is going to be so objectionable that you can’t, in good conscience, read or watch it, then by all means, you should absolutely not sin against your conscience by reading or watching it. But you know what else you should absolutely not do? Write or record a review of it. I was quite dismayed to find that many of the people offering their opinions on Redeeming Love, both reviewers and everyday folks on social media, had not read or watched it. And in many cases they were offering their opinions on faulty information or assumptions because they had not read or watched it. If you’re going to offer an opinion, endorsement, or warning about something, don’t rely on hearsay. Go to the source and know what you’re talking about.

Redeeming Love isn’t a theology book. Some of the critical reviews and comments I read seemed to expect Redeeming Love to be a theological treatise, commentary, or Bible study on the book of Hosea. It’s not, it doesn’t pretend to be, and blasting it for not being one is an unfair judgment to make. A hamburger is not a steak. They’re both good in their own ways and in their appropriate venues, but it’s unfair to walk into Burger King and lambaste a Whopper for not being a T-bone. Redeeming Love is fiction. It is a novel. Judge it in its own category, and if you want to study the real book of Hosea, pick up your Bible and study it.

Don’t be an idolater. Some of the comments – both pro and con – I’ve seen about Redeeming Love have been pretty extreme. “It’s just a book! If you say anything negative about it, you’re a legalist, a Pharisee, and a prude!” or “This movie is so horrible I don’t see how you can be a Christian if you watched it!”. People, come on. Don’t make loving or hating this book or movie an idol or a weapon of unbiblical judgment against your sisters in Christ. Love it or hate it, it’s a matter of conscience. Don’t sin against yours. Don’t bind others’.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

There were some good points about Redeeming Love. There were some unbiblical points about Redeeming Love. But at the end of the day, it’s a work of fiction. Get your theology from Scripture, not movies. Get the story of Hosea from the Bible, not a novel. Share the biblical gospel with your friends and loved ones, don’t depend on pop-evangelical entertainment to do the job Christ has called you to do. Get your focus off Redeeming Love and back on loving your Redeemer.

Get your focus off Redeeming Love and back on loving your Redeemer.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Was John a prophet? … Christianese … Kendrick brothers movies … Confronting immodest nursing…)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question.

I like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar (at the very bottom of each page) can be a helpful tool!

Or maybe I answered your question already? Check out my article The Mailbag: Top 10 FAQs to see if your question has been answered and to get some helpful resources.


In response to the question about Simeon [in this article], would you consider John (the John that wrote Revelation) to be a prophet? I know he was an apostle but I was just wondering if he would also be considered a prophet due to all the Lord showed him regarding Revelation.

Great question! I love it when women are thinking deeply about the things of God. Since you’re asking my opinion, I didn’t delve into any scholarly works on the subject, I’m just going to give you my take on it based on what I know of Scripture.

As you probably know, in the Old Testament, there were two different types of people who prophesied:

  • Men who held the office of prophet – what we might think of as a “professional prophet,” so to speak – like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Elisha, and so on.
  • People to whom God gave a “one and done” (or maybe twice or thrice) word of prophecy for a particular reason or moment in time, like Eldad, Medad, and the 70 elders, Saul, Eliezer, and others.

Jesus was, and is, the final, permanent occupant of the offices of prophet, priest, and king. This is why we don’t see the office of prophet or priest in the New Testament church or anyone installed as “king” over New Testament Christians.

Until the canon of Scripture was complete, however, and foretelling prophecy become obsolete, we do see occasional references to the second type of prophecy in the New Testament church. It seems to me that second category is the category John’s prophecy in Revelation would fall into. He held the office of Apostle, but not the office of prophet (since that position was filled), and God gave Him a “one and done” prophecy to communicate to us.


I’m learning so much from your articles, and I think my husband would benefit from and enjoy hearing what I’m learning. Can I share your posts with him? I don’t want YOU to be teaching my husband and break that command.

It’s always important to be obedient to God’s commands, but it’s equally important that we understand exactly what the command does and doesn’t prohibit so we can obey it properly.

For example, the sixth Commandments says, “You shall not murder,” but this Commandment doesn’t preclude self defense, capital punishment, fighting in a war, or vehemently annihilating an uppity rat or snake with a shovel (I hate rats and snakes. :0)

In the same way, the New Testament’s prohibition on women instructing men in the Scriptures doesn’t mean no male can ever learn anything – even biblical things – from a woman. For example, we see Lois and Eunice instructing Timothy in the Scriptures when he was a boy, and Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, privately correcting and instructing Apollos.

The biblical prohibition against women teaching men in 1 Timothy 2:11-3:7 has a very specific context. Women are prohibited from preaching to or instructing men (not boys, girls, or other women), in the Scriptures (not in other subjects), or holding authority over men, in the context of the gathering of the body of Believers (the church). Women are also prohibited from holding the office of pastor or elder.

Long story short, yes, you can feel free to show your husband my articles and discuss them with him. Showing your husband one of my articles and having a private discussion with him about what you’ve learned from it doesn’t meet the criteria of the biblical prohibition against women instructing men. A blog is not the gathering of the church body, and as you can tell from the title of it, “Discipleship for Christian Women” I’m teaching you as a woman, not him as a man. The principles in these Scriptures are the applicable ones for sharing with your husband in this way, not 1 Timothy 2:12.

Additional Resources:

Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

Rock Your Role FAQs

Rock Your Role article series


What do you think about Teacher X? She preaches to men…he partners with a bunch of false teachers…his church seems to hold New Apostolic Reformation beliefs…she teaches evolution…

While I’m always honored when y’all ask for my thoughts on a particular teacher, if you already know a teacher is sinning by preaching to (or allowing a woman to preach to) men, yoking with false teachers, teaching false doctrine, or unrepentantly doing something else unbiblical, you don’t need my – or anyone else’s – input or approval to stop following that teacher, refuse to use that teacher’s materials, etc. You’ve done what you’re supposed to do – you’ve compared that teacher’s behavior and teaching to Scripture and found it to be contradictory. You’ve been a good Berean. Go ahead and stay away from that teacher.

You might also find my article Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring it Out on Your Own to be helpful.


This week two separate women from different churches and ministry settings have used the words “Too Christianese” to describe words in a song or tract that were being considered for ministry with children. I wonder where this term has come from and why this has become a catchphrase. To me it felt critical and condescending at the same time as well as limiting to the church ministry to have to feel around for words so they are not labeled in this way. I should note we live in New Zealand so I’m not sure if this line of thinking is solely a problem for here or if it is an issue elsewhere.

I think that the foundational issue here is not the word “Christianese” itself, but the underlying paradigm that’s at play.

Sometimes, as might be the case in your situation, when people say, “This has too much Christianese in it,” they’re saying, “People don’t understand biblical terms like ‘sin,’ so we should ditch those terms in favor of other words most people understand, like ‘mistakes’.”

In other words: dumb the Bible down for people. That’s not a biblical paradigm. (And yes, that’s just as much a thing in the U.S. as it apparently is in New Zealand.) The biblical approach is to use biblical terms and teach people what they mean, especially when you’re dealing with children.

On the other hand there’s a lot of churchy “inside language” we use, often without even realizing it, that can make new Christians and people who don’t have a church background feel left out because they don’t know what we’re talking about. For example: “Unspoken prayer request,” “the right hand of fellowship,” “extend grace,” “backslider,” “altar call,” “rededication.” With these sorts of non-theological terms, it might be appropriate to find a clearer way to say things, or it might be appropriate to just explain what they mean.

As to where the term “Christianese” came from and why it has become a catchphrase, I plead ignorance. :0)


We used to regularly follow and enjoy the Sherwood people/movies (i.e. the Kendrick brothers and their crowd)…We’ve pretty much moved away from them due to some theology & discernment concerns (working with/fellowships with Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, as well some muted undertones of the prosperity gospel) and was hoping to hear your opinion on where you’d classify them.

I guess I’d stick those movies in the same category as “Christian fiction” books, meaning that I don’t hold works of fiction to the same high standard as, say, Bible study or theology books, but that doesn’t mean anything goes, either. (I’ve explained more about that here.)

Here’s where I’d land on those movies, or any other work of Christian fiction:

  • Don’t get your theology from works of fiction. This includes any “Bible” studies, devotionals, journals, curricula, programs, or any other materials based on a novel or movie. Get your theology from the Bible, from good teaching and preaching at your church, and from theological books from trustworthy authors/teachers.
  • Think about the financial angle. Will your conscience allow you to financially support the people who made the movie, the actors in the movie, and any false teachers or false doctrine in, or associated with, the movie?
  • Evaluate your spiritual maturity and level of discernment. If you’re spiritually mature and skilled in discernment, you may be able to step around a few doctrinal “cow pies” in a novel or movie that’s otherwise generally in compliance with Scripture. If you’re a new Christian or have not honed your discernment skills, you might want to forego certain novels and movies, or at least watch or discuss them with a spiritually mature, discerning friend.

Thank you thank you for the article on being discreet when breastfeeding. There was a lady at the ballpark yesterday, walking around, and sitting down with it popped out in front of everyone!!!!! I just about lost it and don’t want to. But I need to know how to approach her nicely. I hope and pray I can.

Hang on just a sec, there. I think you might be misunderstanding something. That article was addressed to Christian women about policing their own personal behavior. It was not written to anyone about addressing other people’s behavior.

If you have a personal discipling relationship with a Christian young woman for whom this is an issue, and she’s open to it, you may want to share that article with her and disciple her in the area of modesty.

But don’t go up to random strangers and address this issue. It doesn’t matter how nicely you approach her, it’s not going to go well. And, assuming she’s lost, she’s not going to care about biblical reasons for modesty. Please trust me, and the massive number of emails and comments I got from professing Christian women who were offended by that article, on this. Avert your eyes, mind your business, and look for an opportunity to share the gospel with her instead.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Movies

Movie Tuesday ~ Paint the Wall Black: The Story of Nini’s Deli

It has long been my perspective that the grit, wonder, and inspiration of true stories far surpasses anything in the fictional realm. And Paint the Wall Black only serves to bolster this belief.

Meet Juan, a dear brother whom God graciously saved out of a number of depravities. Listen to his story of serving Christ and ministering to others through his family’s business…and what happened when he stood his ground on God’s Word on Black Lives Matter during the 2020 riots. Bonus material after the movie: Jon Harris, of the Conversations that Matter Podcast, interviews Juan and Pastor Joe.

A couple of caveats:

The filmmakers nobly attempted the herculean task of bleeping or blurring out every audible or written instance of profanity and vulgarity. But as you will see, it was impossible to edit out all of them. You will see the F-word. You will see middle fingers flying. Many pagans express themselves in such ways. If you cannot handle that, please do not watch this film.

Featuring this film on my blog does not equal an endorsement of Metro Praise International church, which, from its website, appears to be Pentecostal. Though I appreciate their strong focus on preaching the gospel and don’t doubt their confession of Christ based on what I’ve seen in this movie, Pentecostalism holds to some doctrines which are unbiblical. If you’re looking for a church in the Chicago or Dallas areas please see my Searching for a new church? resource instead.

Entertainment, Mailbag, Movies

The Mailbag: Overview/Review of “The Chosen” (An Online TV Series on the Ministry of Jesus)

In the summer of 2021, Amy and I recorded a three part series of our podcast, A Word Fitly Spoken, reviewing The Chosen, which included both seasons 1 & 2. Some, but not all, of the information in this article is discussed in those episodes. If you’d like to listen please scroll down to the Additional Resources section at the end of this article.

The “Review” section of this article contains SPOILERS.

What do you know about the TV series, The Chosen?

Overview (No spoilers):

From their website: The Chosen is the first multi-season television series about the life of Christ, as witnessed through the eyes of those He impacted. Directed by Dallas Jenkins (The Resurrection of Gavin Stone) and distributed by VidAngel Studios, The Chosen has grown to become the largest crowdfunded TV series of all time. (VidAngel is a Netflix and Amazon-based streaming service that allows you to skip distasteful content regarding profanity, nudity, sexual situations, and violence.)

In other words, if you’re familiar with the original content “TV series” Netflix creates and streams, it’s kind of like that, but it’s on VidAngel. You can also watch all eight episodes of the first season for free on The Chosen’s website, The Chosen app on Google Play or Apple (which you can also stream to your smart TV), and on YouTube. (I’ve posted the YouTube version of each of the eight episodes below in the “Review” section of this article, so you can watch them all right here if you like.)

From the extremely limited amount of information about his theology* available online, The Chosen’s writer/director Dallas Jenkins (son of Jerry B. Jenkins) seems to be fairly doctrinally sound in his beliefs. He is a Christian/inspirational filmmaker, and former Director of Visual Media and member of the Executive Leadership Team at Harvest Bible Chapel (James MacDonald’s former church), which has long had a reputation for adhering to a biblical statement of faith. Dallas was one of the leaders of HBC who attempted to bring about a biblical solution to the MacDonald debacle several years ago (read Dallas’ statement here). I spot-checked for connections between Dallas and several major false teachers and found none.

Update (7/12/20): Thank you to a kind reader who brought to my attention a recent interview of Dallas on a Mormon YouTube channel. Dallas seems to believe that Mormonism and Catholicism are both Christianity. You can listen to the short version (with Todd Friel’s commentary) here (starting at 45:00) or the entire interview here, as well as Gabriel Hughes’ 2021 thoughts on Dallas’ theology here (starting at 18:08). You may also wish to compare (fairly, objectively, and discerningly) Dallas’ comments in the interview with his comments (below) at the end of this article. It is one thing to use the products and services of a non-Christian company. It is another matter to personally believe, as a Christian, that false religions are Christianity and that adherents of those religions are brothers and sisters in Christ. If these revelations of Dallas’ beliefs prevent you from watching The Chosen, that is certainly understandable, and I would encourage you not to sin against your conscience by watching it. However, these revelations do not somehow magically change the actual content of the episodes, nor my evaluation of said content. In other words, I biblically evaluated what I saw in the episodes, so the remainder of this review stands.

There is an accompanying devotional to the movie entitled The Chosen: 40 Days with Jesus. I’ve read the sample available at Amazon (the endorsements {Liz Curtis Higgs isn’t someone I’d recommend, I’m not familiar with any of the others}, the foreword, and the first three devotions). It’s not Bible study, so don’t expect it to be. Bible study is reading and studying the text of the Bible. It’s a devotional. It’s like having a Hershey’s Kiss for a mid-afternoon snack. It’s quick and sweet and enjoyable, but it’s not sitting down at the table and eating a substantive, well-balanced meal of Bible study. For a “Hershey’s Kiss” it’s not bad. It uses Scripture and the Bible characters in the show to point the reader to Christ. The first three entries lean heavily on Mary Magdalene, which, I would guess, is because she is one of the first characters introduced in The Chosen.

I watched all eight of the episodes in season 1 of The Chosen, and several of Dallas’ commentaries, interviews with actors, and behind the scenes videos. For the most part, I thought The Chosen was very good, biblically and cinematically. The costumes, sets, scenery, visual effects, sound editing, and acting were all top notch from my perspective. I even like the theme song. It is, overall, true to Scripture when portraying something recorded in Scripture (Although, as in nearly every Bible movie, there are minor details that are changed when it seems like it would be just as easy not to change them. For example- an episode portrays Jesus standing in Peter’s boat to preach when the biblical account clearly says He sat. When it’s right there in black and white, why not follow it?). When “filling in the blanks” (fictionalized character development and events not recorded in Scripture) it was mostly (except for a few notable issues which I’ll describe in the “Review” section below) consistent with biblical principles and practices as well as first century Middle Eastern culture.

Some things I really appreciated about The Chosen:

🎉 The common vernacular. You’ll hear characters using very 21st century American words and phrases like, “I’ve got this,” “lucky guess,” “OK,” “guys,” “No kidding,” etc. It might interrupt your suspension of disbelief for a second, but it’s a good reminder that Jesus and the disciples didn’t walk around speaking stilted King James English. They spoke whatever was the first century Aramaic/Hebrew equivalent to today’s common man’s vocabulary.

🎉 The characters in The Chosen look and sound Middle Eastern, as they should, rather than looking European and sounding British.

🎉 I know this is hard for some Christians to accept, but Jesus, being fully human (in addition to fully God) and being made like us in every respect, probably cracked a smile and kidded around with his friends (in a totally holy and biblical way) every now and then. The disciples most likely did, too. I appreciated the moments of appropriate humor in The Chosen that serve to remind us that Jesus, Peter, James, John, and all the rest were real, normal human beings.

🎉 I’ve watched a lot of Jesus movies, and I really believe that The Chosen is the best overall portrayal of Jesus – His looks, mannerisms, personality, spiritual life, teaching, relating to others, the whole ball of wax – that I’ve ever seen. “Reverently realistic” is the way I’d put it.

Overall, I would give the first season of The Chosen a B or B+.

Caveats:

🎥 I can only comment on what I’ve watched. As of the writing of this article, I have only seen season 1 of The Chosen, because that’s all that has been released.

🎥 *Dallas Jenkins is a filmmaker, not a pastor or Bible teacher. As such, I regard him, his theology, and his work more along the lines of a Christian fiction author than a pastor or teacher.

🎥 As with any Bible movie, you must hold The Chosen at arm’s length with the thought constantly in your mind: this is not the Bible, this is a TV show. Whatever you see in this series might be a reasonable imagining of how a biblical event happened, or how a biblical character acted, or it might have happened in a totally different way. Don’t take what you see in The Chosen as “gospel” (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Something I’ve been very concerned about as I’ve read and heard viewers’ responses to The Chosen is repeated remarks like, “I came to know Jesus better through this show.” Unless the person saying this means that the show inspired her to pick up her Bible and study it, and that’s how she came to know Jesus better, this is a very dangerous statement. The Bible is clear that we come to the knowledge of Christ and His Word through Scripture. The Chosen (as I’m sure Dallas Jenkins would agree) is not Scripture. It is not breathed out by the Holy Spirit, it is neither infallible nor inerrant, and the actor portraying Jesus in the show is not Jesus. You cannot get to know Jesus better through The Chosen because the person you’re seeing on the show isn’t Jesus. We must never derive our doctrine or practices from any source except the Bible.

🎥 The Chosen isn’t for you if you…

…hold to the belief that depictions of Jesus are a Second Commandment violation. (Although, in episodes 1&2, “Jesus” does not make an appearance until the last five minutes or so of the episode, if your conscience allows you to watch up until that point.)

…are offended by anything that is not straight, word for word Scripture.

…are offended by the thought of Jesus kidding around with His friends and doing other normal, non-sinful, things humans do.

…have a difficult time separating fact (the Bible) from fiction (much of The Chosen).

If you fall into any of these categories, please do not watch The Chosen.

Review (Spoilers start here):

As I said, I thought The Chosen was pretty good overall. I’ve made a few brief remarks on each episode below. Some of my remarks showcase a problematic issue in that particular episode, but that doesn’t mean I disliked the entire episode. Generally speaking, if there’s something in an episode I didn’t comment on, I either liked it, could take it or leave it, or it somehow escaped my attention. I thought the content of each episode was biblically consistent or plausible unless otherwise noted.

Every night last week, Dallas Jenkins hosted a livestream of each episode, with his commentary (and interviews and extra video features- all of which you can skip if you like) prior to and following the episode. The videos below are the YouTube videos of those livestreamed episodes. (Update, April 2021: The original 2020 livestream videos were removed from YouTube. Below are the versions re-released in 2021)

Episode 1:

This series focuses on Jesus’ ministry years, rather than being a chronological biography of His whole life. Jesus doesn’t appear until the last five minutes of episode 1 (as an adult) when He drives the demons out of Mary Magdalene (who has been living under the assumed name “Lilith”). We meet Simon and his wife Eden, Andrew, Nicodemus and his wife Zohara, Matthew, and assorted Roman soldiers and townspeople. It was nice to see the wives brought into the story, and I enjoyed the interactions between the husbands and their wives. All of the action and dialogue takes place before Jesus arrives on the scene, and no one but Mary interacts with Him in this episode, so nearly everything we see is fictionalized.

Prior to Jesus healing Mary, Nicodemus is called upon to exorcise Mary’s demons. I strenuously doubt that actually happened, but it wasn’t overtly unbiblical.

In a couple of interviews with Dallas Jenkins, he mentioned that they decided to play Matthew as having Asperger’s Syndrome – a choice which doesn’t conflict with Scripture outright, but one I find very strange as there’s no indication anywhere in the Bible that Matthew had any sort of disability. Dallas attributes this creative decision to the fact that Matthew is depicted in Scripture as a “numbers guy,” “meticulous,” and because he chose a job that made him a social outcast. Well…OK, but those things don’t automatically point to the autism spectrum. The majority of people with those traits are not autistic.

If you’re familiar with Asperger’s, you’ll recognize the characteristics. If you’re not, the actor underplays it enough that Matthew just comes off as a high strung, socially awkward germophobe. I could be way off base here, but it feels like the Asperger’s aspect was added to Matthew’s character either for the purpose of manufacturing diversity to appease audience members whose worldly worldview centers around such things, or to be an inspiration to people on the autism spectrum (Dallas mentions in one interview that one of his own children is autistic). Either way, if either of those reasons are actually the case, they are spiritually inappropriate motives when it comes to portraying anything biblical, or even just a historical character. We don’t bend the Bible to make it more appealing to a particular audience.

And finally, is it just me, or does the actor who plays Matthew look exactly like actor David Krumholtz (Bernard in The Santa Clause)? Sorry if you can’t unsee that.

Episode 2:

James (Zebedee), John, James, and Thaddeus make their first appearances in this episode.

When Nicodemus questions Mary Magdalene about the identity of the man who healed her, she tells Nicodemus, “His time for men to know Him has not yet come,” implying that her healing, which was portrayed as private (only Mary and Jesus present) took place before Jesus’ first public miracle at the wedding at Cana. (This is discussed further in episode 5.) This is biblically plausible. The Bible does not indicate when Mary’s healing took place nor whether or not it was done in public. The Bible also does not preclude Jesus having performed (unrecorded) private miracles or healings prior to his first public miracle.

Jesus again shows up in the last few minutes of the episode, inviting Himself to the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner Mary Magdalene – a single woman – is hosting in her home. Also present – James (not Zebedee) and Thaddeus – already disciples (“students”) of Jesus, and Barnaby and Shula, a man and woman who are friends of Mary’s. When they all get to the table, Jesus invites Mary to lead the ceremony prior to the meal. Mary demurs and says, “No, now that you are here, you must do it.” Jesus replies, “Thank you, but this is your home, and I would love for you to do it.” Mary reads Scripture, leads prayer, and offers the blessing. While we need to keep in mind that this is not a portrayal of a Christian woman violating the principles of 1 Timothy 2:12, I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that this would have been consistent with first century Jewish culture and practice. Rabbis (as Jesus is referred to in this scene) were held in high regard, and the household would have considered it an honor and a blessing for a visiting Rabbi to lead the Shabbat ceremony. Furthermore, it would not have been a woman’s place, culturally, to lead men in Scripture reading, prayer, and blessing.

Episode 3:

Jesus camps out alone in the countryside prior to calling His disciples. That’s not really indicated in the Bible, nor is having a band of children coming to visit every day, but…OK. His interactions with the children are charming and realistic.

Jesus as a craftsman/carpenter is completely plausible and consistent with biblical archaeological and anthropological evidence. In fact, it is probably more accurate than the Bible’s rendering of “carpenter” due to the narrow way we define that term. Jesus likely also engaged in stone masonry as lumber wasn’t plentiful in that region, and buildings and homes were usually mudbrick or stone.

Jesus teaches the children the Lord’s Prayer, which does not conflict with Scripture, nor is it implausible. We know that as Jesus traveled around and encountered various people He repeated His teachings. We may only have a certain teaching of His recorded once in Scripture, but that doesn’t mean He only taught it once.

Episode 4:

John the Baptist is brought into the conversation, but doesn’t appear until the last few minutes (Early on, The Chosen seems to have a habit of introducing major characters in the last few minutes of an episode.). He has already been arrested and Nicodemus goes to visit him in prison. I doubt that really happened, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility/plausibility.

Jesus calls (consistent with the Luke 5 account) His next disciples: Simon, Andrew, James and John, and we see the miraculous haul of fish (you’ll probably want to watch the behind the scenes footage near the end of the video about how they accomplished this special effect – it’s fascinating). Simon’s plaintive statement, “We’ve been waiting so long for You,” brought me to tears. We’ve been waiting so long for Him too.

Matthew – perpetually recording everything in his journal – witnesses this scene at the seashore, which is not indicated in Scripture but, again, isn’t outside the realm of possibility/plausibility, either.

Episode 5:

love how Eden, Peter’s wife, is portrayed when he tells her he’s going to quit fishing and follow Jesus full time. This is a godly woman who loves and supports her husband and wants nothing more than for him to follow the Messiah.

Mary Magdalene – a single woman unaccompanied by a close male relative – traveling with a bunch of men to the wedding at Cana is unlikely in the extreme. It would have been completely culturally, if not morally, inappropriate and her virtue – and Jesus’ intentions – would have been impugned by others.

One of the objections I had to The Bible miniseries several years ago was that the writers felt the need to appease a feminist American (and, sadly, evangelical) culture by elevating Mary Magdalene to the same position and level of personal and ministerial intimacy with Jesus as the twelve disciples – in essence making her the “13th disciple”. I am concerned that as The Chosen progresses, it may attempt to do the same thing, and this is the major reason I rated this series as low as I did.

See what I mean?
This is the banner pic for The Chosen’s social media pages.

Having Mary constantly hovering around with the Twelve is not the way either she or the disciples are presented in the gospels (if she had been as close to Jesus as she is portrayed in The Chosen, we would likely hear more about her in the text of Scripture). There was the “inner circle” of intimacy with Jesus: Peter, James, and John. Then came the next closest circle, the remainder of the Twelve. Finally, there was a larger crowd of men and some women who followed Jesus regularly. This last group is the group Mary and the other women who followed Jesus would have fallen into, not in the circle with the twelve disciples.

Certainly Jesus elevated the general prestige and worth of women, but He did not elevate them to the position of social and cultural equality with men as American culture does. That would have been a stumbling block to nearly anyone observing or interacting with Jesus and would have been a major distraction from His ministry.

All of that being said, The Chosen does depict Mary Magdalene as being soft-spoken, humble, and meek, befitting a woman of her time and culture, not as a brash, raging femi-nazi.

Toward the end of the episode, Simon and Jesus kid around about Andrew’s lack of grace when it comes to dancing. (There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It was brotherly and endearing.) Simon then asks Jesus if He would change Andrew into a better dancer, and the words the writers put into Jesus’ mouth were, “Some things even I cannot do.” Now, in that context, the writers may have meant to convey that Jesus was just making a witty remark and that, in fact, it was not part of His mission to transform Andrew from klutz into Fred Astair. But I think that was a poor choice of wording. It’s contextually untrue (because Jesus was certainly capable of making Andrew graceful), and it’s understandably going to offend Christians to hear “Jesus” say He’s unable to do something.

The wedding at Cana is beautifully, and as far as I can tell, authentically portrayed, and the depiction of Jesus changing the water into wine is consistent with Scripture.

Episode 6:

Again, Mary Magdalene is traveling on an overnight trip with what appears to be about six or eight of the Twelve. As I mentioned in my remarks on episode 5, this would have been completely culturally inappropriate and is not consistent with the way Mary and the disciples are presented in Scripture.

In the portrayal of story of the men who bring the paralytic to Jesus, while men are the ones actually carrying the paralytic on a litter, Tamar, a woman (a self-described friend of the paralytic), leads the way, and it’s made clear this is all her idea. When Simon attempts to stop the entourage from pushing their way through the crowd to Jesus, Tamar is the one who pleads with him, and Mary Magdalene reproves him (which would not have been her place in that culture). Moments later, Tamar is the one who comes up with the idea of going up to the roof, and Mary Magdalene assists her. Once the hole is made in the roof, Tamar calls down to Jesus and asks Him to heal her friend, and Jesus says to her, “Your faith is beautiful.”

As with the insertion of Asperger’s into Matthew’s character, this clunky insertion of women into the biblical narrative where there are none feels like a blatant attempt to play to a 21st century feminist audience. And in this instance it does conflict with Scripture. The Luke 5 account is clear that men (v.18) brought the paralytic to the place where Jesus was. Those men (v.18) were the ones “seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus.” When it was impossible to get through the crowd, those same men (v.19) were the ones who decided to go up to the roof and let their friend down through the hole. And when they did, Jesus looked at those men (v.20) and affirmed their faith. The writers have erased a faithful group of men from this story in order to exalt women. That’s not being faithful to Scripture, that’s pushing an agenda- whether their own, or that of the segment of their audience they hope to placate.

Let’s be clear- there’s more than one way to be ashamed of the gospel, and “modernizing” it to fit the world’s sensibilities about diversity and feminism is one of those ways. I dearly hope The Chosen’s writers will recognize that, whether they meant to or not, this is what they’re doing and that they will correct their course in future episodes.

Episode 7:

This episode starts off with a scene you might not recognize if you’re not thoroughly familiar with the Old Testament. It’s Moses crafting the bronze serpent, which Jesus later tells Nicodemus was a type and shadow of His redemptive death on the cross. The depiction of Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus is beautifully played with utmost clarity and fidelity to Scripture – much of the dialog drawn verbatim from John 3. I was again brought to tears imagining a faithful servant of God waiting so many years for the Consolation of Israel and finally getting to meet Him face to face. For me, this was the best scene of the entire season.

When Jesus calls Matthew from the tax booth, Gaius reminds Matthew of all he’ll be leaving behind – wealth, position, protection – if he follows Jesus. It was a striking reminder that the disciples gave up everything to follow Jesus, and that we should be willing to do the same.

Episode 8:

Love, love, LOVE the opening scene in which Jacob – digging the famous “woman at the well” well – tells his new Canaanite friend about God, “We didn’t choose Him. He chose us.”. This is exactly right. Dead in our trespasses and sins, we don’t choose God. We can’t choose God. He chooses us and rescues us out of our sin. It’s great that the writers are bringing the Old Testament into this “New Testament” period of time, because, even though we encounter Him on the right side of The Book, Jesus lived His whole life and performed His entire ministry in the Old Testament mindset and milieu. Everybody was basically still living in the Old Testament – their Bible, their history, their culture, their practices, everything was still very much Old Testament.

In the scene between the woman at the well and her husband, and the scene in which the Pharisees arrived at Matthew’s house during dinner, it was helpful that The Chosen fleshed out the Jewish/cultural attitudes toward sin and sinners. I think sometimes when we read the biblical account, we don’t get how horrified and disgusted the Jews were by sin – particularly the sins of others.

Nicodemus bringing in the story about Hagar’s experience with God in the wilderness – “You are a God who sees me” – lays the foundation for Jesus to be that God who sees women (and, indeed everyone) in this episode. Jesus’ interaction with the women in this episode – Peter’s wife Eden, her mother, and the woman at the well – were lovely, consistent with Scripture, and exactly what we would imagine to be characteristic of Jesus. This type of interaction between the Jesus character and women is completely sufficient to demonstrate Jesus’ love for and value of women. There is no need to present Mary Magdalene in a culturally inappropriate, stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb way in order to prove that point.

Overall, I think The Chosen, season 1, is an enjoyable historical dramatization of Jesus’ early years of ministry. If you choose to watch it, I would encourage you to do so with an open Bible, to make sure that everything you believe comes from the text of Scripture rather than from The Chosen. Happy viewing!


Additional Resources:

A Review of “The Chosen” – Part 1 on A Word Fitly Spoken

A Review of “The Chosen” – Part 2 on A Word Fitly Spoken

Your thoughts about “The Chosen” – Part 3 on A Word Fitly Spoken


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.