By Eric Johnson
Posted May 20, 2022
The Chosen is a crowdfunded television/video series about the life of Jesus. It has proven to be wildly successful in raising money in order to produce two seasons worth of videos that provide a unique look at the Gospels while especially focusing on the interactions between Jesus and His disciples.
The producer of the series is Dallas Jenkins–the son of novelist Jerry B. Jenkins who is probably best known for coauthoring (with Tim LaHaye) 16 bestselling religious novels on the end times from a pretribulational (premillennial) viewpoint .
Since the pilot was produced in 2017, Dallas Jenkins has proven to be a big influencer as he has raised millions of dollars from thousands of individuals while building relationships with Latter-day Saint leaders in Utah. In fact, his film crew has been given unprecedented access to the church’s authentic film set in Goshen, Utah that was created to imitate ancient Jerusalem.
Last Christmas a movie called The Messengers made over $13 million in just several weeks at nationwide theaters, much more than anyone would have expected. DVD sets of the first and second seasons of The Chosen are also available for purchase at a number of retail stores, including Deseret Books, owned by the LDS Church. A third season is just around the corner.
Over the past few years, we have received several inquiries from interested folks wondering if we either recommend or criticize the series. We do neither.
Yes, we have watched both seasons of the series currently available with a critical eye and have determined that none of the episodes have any LDS worldview points associated with them. Why have we never before talked about the series? Based on what we do (study Mormonism and contrast it with biblical Christianity), we have not felt that this series on Jesus has been worthy of our comment, just as we typically don’t talk about other media not related to Mormonism.
Still, we have cringed in the past when Jenkins—a committed Evangelical Christian—has made statements that could be easily confused to say that Mormons worship a similar (if not the same) Jesus as biblical Christians do. Jenkins has spoken on this topic before and has even been interviewed by Christians to discuss his views. He has been very careful to not say that Mormons are Christians or are not Christians.
Of course, there is much at stake for Jenkins, because not only is the use of a beautiful and expensive set in play but The Chosen is a favorite with many Latter-day Saints. I have seen many t-shirts and sweatshirts advertising the series at LDS events in Utah (where I live) as well as in Idaho, and Arizona.
While we wish Jenkins would be more straightforward about the topic, he is certainly entitled to his opinion. This is why we have never before written about the series or recommended/criticized it one way or the other.
Should Christians watch it? Or not? Standing by itself, the series is fine. We do not believe anyone who watches the two seasons of episodes would be especially tempted to become Latter-day Saints. Meanwhile, those who don’t want to watch it are also entitled to their opinion and have the free choice to ignore it. We leave that choice for each individual to decide.
However, by trying to defend his stance on whether he believes Mormons can be Christians, Jenkins recently posted a video defending himself against his critics on The Chosen Facebook page. It is what he says in this video (not the series itself) that I would like to address here.
Did Jenkins ever say “Mormons are Christian”?
In the video description that was posted on May 19, 2022, Jenkins writes,
Have you heard some things or seen some headlines that confused or even bothered you? Did I say “Mormons are Christians,” or “we love the same Jesus?” There’s been a lot out there recently: some of it true, most of it false; or at best, willfully out of context. I address it for the final time (May 19, 2022).
In the video he rambles for some 16+ minutes, filming himself with his cell phone while standing in what appears to be his kitchen. It is not much different than other videos he has posted on topics related to the series. In this video, he says some things that are naïve at best or just not true–though, for now, I still want to give him the benefit of the doubt.
In the first minute of the video, he claims he has received “dozens and dozens of comments on the matter” and has had these issues brought up by “multiple friends and multiple viewers of the show.” He claims that “almost 100 percent of the people who have commented about this have actually misquoted me or, at the very least, have gotten it wrong about what I meant . . .” That is a pretty high number!
Based on this feedback, he says that “I’d like to give you a little bit of clarity because I think words do matter.” He then asks if it is true that he has ever claimed that “Mormons (or LDS) are Christians or Mormons and Evangelical Christians love the same Jesus”? The answer, he claims, is no. Then he asks, “Could it appear that I said that?” Sheepishly, he admitted, “I think that’s true. . . . I probably could have given more context and clarity.” He insists that he has tried to be very clear in the past but he has not always succeeded.
He also said it would be a problem for him to say, “definitively,” that Mormons and Evangelicals are the same or love the same Jesus.
So far, so good. Listening up until the 4-minute mark of the 16:20 video, it appears that perhaps he is willing to draw a line and distinguish between his faith and the faith of his Latter-day Saint friends as well as the higher-ups in the LDS ecclesiastical brotherhood–those who signed off for him to use the church’s film set. What comes next, though, is not satisfactory for an Evangelical Christian as myself who has studied the LDS religion for four decades. He said,
Not because there aren’t LDS folks who are Christian and not because there aren’t LDS and Evangelical who aren’t Christian and who love the same Jesus, but it would be wrong of me to ever say any one group believes any one thing altogether. That is just a level of arrogance that I just don’t have . . .
He went on to say that it would be wrong to lump any group into the same belief system. Are Mormons Christian? The answer he provides is, basically, “Well, it all depends.” What Jenkins does is defer by saying that he is not capable of judging whether or not a person is Christian “because that’s a level of arrogance that I don’t possess.” This is the point where the video unwinds by saying the same thing he criticized himself just seconds earlier, as he does not clarify what he means. By talking off the cuff, as Jenkins is wont to do, he ends up muddling the issue even further.
He then makes a reference to “those LDS folks” who are “brothers and sisters in Christ” and who “love the same Jesus that I do.” Jenkins claims that he has had “hundreds of hours” of conversations with these many LDS friends over the past few years whom “I happen to know very deeply” and “I stand by my statement that those LDS friends that I’m referring to absolutely love the same Jesus that I do.”
If this video is meant to clarify his views, then it is clear where he stands.
To temper what he has said, he maintains that he is not claiming all Latter-day Saints are Christian just as he would not say that all Evangelical Christians would be. I agree, not everyone who says they are Evangelical Christians are saved. Point taken. But when he says that those who hold to LDS teaching should also be considered saved–in this case, his friends–this is faulty thinking from a biblical point of view. It appears that Jenkins’s personal relationships with his LDS friends have made him think that the Jesus they believe in is the same as his. He apparently wants to ignore the unique theology as officially taught by this almost-200-year-old religion.
And this is the problem. Mormonism and Christianity are not the same, as he has admitted. Yes, his friends say they have a relationship with Jesus, but what exactly does that mean? But he wants to accept his friends as “Christian” because he wants to take their word in believing in Jesus at face value. Of course, a person could be “Mormon” in name and really have a personal relationship with Jesus. However, I have found that this scenario is the rare exception rather than the rule.
If we consider what LDS leaders–the ones who are responsible to interpret what the religion of Mormonism teaches–have taught, only those who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are “Christian.” For instance, sixth LDS President Joseph F. Smith stated,
. . .for I contend that the Latter-day Saints are the only good and true Christians, that I know anything about in the world. There are a good many people who profess to be Christians, but they are not founded on the foundation that Jesus Christ himself has laid (November 2, 1891, [Stake conference message], Collected Discourses, 2:305. Ellipsis mine)
A recent church manual states, “Many in the Christian world are sincere, and their false doctrinal conclusions are not their own fault” (Old Testament Student Manual 1 Kings-Malachi Religion 302, 2003, 166). While it may not be our “own fault,” the point is that Christians and Mormons have tremendous differences, even when it comes to their belief in Jesus. And many other quotes could be cited to support what these say.
Because he doesn’t provide a lot of information on the extent of these friendships and how deep they had spoken, we don’t know. I highly doubt, however, that he has asked probing questions to better understand his friends’ below-the-surface beliefs.
To help, here are some questions that Dallas Jenkins may want to consider asking the next time he gets into a spiritual conversation with his LDS friends:
- Referring to the First Vision, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie referenced Joseph Smith-History 1:19 in the Pearl of Great Price and wrote, “Is it any wonder that the Lord of heaven, as he stood by his Father’s side on that glorious day in 1820, speaking of all the churches in all Christendom, told young Joseph ‘that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight’” (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, 117).
- Do you accept the “Great Apostasy” and that Christianity’s doctrines were an abomination and, as the passage also says, that the pastors are “corrupt” and that “they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof”?
- Dallin Oaks, a member of the First Presidency, once told a general conference audience, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches. But we have differences, and those differences explain why we send missionaries to other Christians” (“Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1995, 84).
- Do you agree with Oaks that your church sends missionaries to Christians to convert them to your religion?
- Fifteenth President Gordon B. Hinckley said in 1998, “In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints ‘do not believe in the traditional Christ.’ ‘No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages’” (“Crown of Gospel is Upon Our Heads, Church News, June 20, 1998, 7). He also said, “As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say” (“We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, 90).
- Would you agree with your former prophet that the “traditional” Christ is not your Christ? Or was he wrong in his assessment?
These three arenas would be a great place to start a conversation and see how different the Mormon and Evangelical views really are.
Of course, any Latter-day Saint is entitled to a personal belief that is contrary to the official position(s) of the church. Yet, when I have probed using questions such as these, I have found that Latter-day Saints are flushed out of the bushes by admitting that they agree with their leaders in contrast to the position held by Jenkins. Delving deeper, then, will help someone like Dallas Jenkins to understand that there are many more differences than similarities when it come to Mormonism and biblical Christianity.
The CMA analogy
Later in the video, Jenkins decided to introduce a faulty argument known as the Counterfeit Money Analogy, or CMA. It says that there are too many counterfeit tactics used for the Secret Service to detect, so instead of studying those, they spend their time studying the original. As Mark D. Mathewson writes, “They just get to know really well the real thing, and they get to know it so well that they can detect a counterfeit easily” (Viewpoint: The Myth of the Counterfeit Money Analogy). On paper, this sounds logical and seems to minimize the need for studying the counterfeit.
In the same way, then, Jenkins claims that it is the believer’s job to get to know the “authentic Jesus and the real Jesus as much as humanly possible.” It is not important to understand “all of the different versions” of Jesus but to merely grasp the biblical version. After all, shouldn’t we read our Bibles first to see who Jesus really is? As Mathewson explains, “CMA sounds spiritual. It can also instill guilt in the Christian apologist: perhaps I should study only the Bible; maybe I should avoid studying non-Christian thought for fear of capitulating to it.”
While it is true that Christians should have a firm grasp on the genuine (whether it’s the person of Jesus or Christianity as a whole) through a biblical lens, CMA lacks for several reasons.
First of all, if his LDS friends are “Christians” who love Jesus, why would he even decide to bring up an analogy such as this? Is he insinuating that the Christianity he accepts is authentic and perhaps a religion like Mormonism is counterfeit? Maybe he’d like to share this analogy with his friends and tell them, “Sure, you love Jesus and I do consider you a Christian, but your church is a counterfeit.” How do you think they would react? I doubt he will want to approach it this way since this is not going to win him many friends and help him influence people!
It is true that his viewers should not be exposed to the Gnostic Jesus, the Islamic Jesus, the Hare Krishna Jesus, the New Age Jesus, or any other false version of Jesus as referenced in 2 Cor. 11:4. Certainly, Jenkins is commanded to present the Jesus as well as he can from the pages of the Bible. I don’t even mind that he and his writers speculate on things about Jesus that are not found in the Bible. I don’t think any of these additional details are heretical but they merely provide a creative (and different way) to show how Jesus and the apostles may have interacted with each other. There is no problem there.
But using this illustration of not studying and being able to identify wrong versions of Jesus goes beyond his argument. Should we assume that the Secret Service is so naïve as to ignore how counterfeit bills are produced? Many years ago I spoke to someone in the police field who regularly worked with counterfeit money and he agreed that his department considered the methods of production of the fakes. It would be foolish, he said, to ignore these attempts to copy the original by just relying on their expertise of the authentic bills. In fact, over the past two decades additional tests have been incorporated in our American currency (including watermarks, red and blue threads, and ultraviolet glow) to counter the efforts of the those criminals whose methods were even fooling bank personnel. (For more on this, click here.)
I studied under Dr. Ronald Youngblood at Bethel Seminary San Diego in 1985. Youngblood was a Hebrew scholar who had many accomplishments, including serving as one of the editors of the New International Version of the Bible in the 1970s. I’ll never forget a story he told in my introductory prolegomena (hermeneutics) class in the fall of 1985. He had flown to the East Coast and sat next to a Latter-day Saint on one of the flights. The two engaged in an animated conversation, which proved to be frustrating to him. He told our class,
Gentlemen, I want to confess that I tried to share my faith with a Mormon on a flight last week and for several hours I got nowhere. Everything I said, he said he agreed with, even though I knew we had differences in the things we were discussing. I promise you that I will do my research so that this never happens again, as I will take a closer look at this religion and be able to do a better job sharing the Christian faith.
Dr. Youngblood had written books and even took part in a popular translation of the Bible! But despite his knowledge and understanding of the original, he admitted that he was not successful in understanding the counterfeit to be able to make a solid biblical case that would make sense to the Mormon. That “confession” meant a lot to me and I will never forget it.
In truth, CMA fails to correct the problem, as Mathewson writes,
The misuse of CMA occurs when one attempts to use it for the correction of error. Were Christians solely entrusted with detecting error, CMA would win the day. Yet God also calls us to correct the problem. F. F. Bruce reminds us, “There are times when it is not enough to hold and expound the truth; the war must be carried into the enemy’s lines so that the error may be attacked, exposed, and refuted”(F. F. Bruce, The Defense of the Faith in the New Testament, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977], 80). If God requires Christians to offer correction for error, mere detection is insufficient. To correct the error, I need more than a knowledge of the truth; I need an understanding of the error.
He also writes,
The responsibility of Christians to offer a corrective for error requires that they not only know the truth but also have some understanding of error. Scriptural precedent supports my conclusion. The apostle Paul’s example in Athens (Acts 17:16–34) contradicts the thinking of those who misuse CMA. It’s undeniable that Paul knew scriptural truth, yet he rigorously examined the philosophies of his day. He invested time in examining the philosophy of the Athenians. This included knowing Epicurean and Stoic writings (v. 28). Paul understood that correcting the Athenian false belief required understanding that belief.
The problem, then, is that the CMA analogy might be good at detecting error but not correcting it. In effect, then, CMA is not helpful to Jenkins in this case. He seems to think there are differences he has with the religion of Mormonism, but what are those differences? And even if he recognizes Mormonism as a counterfeit, Jenkins is no better served than what Dr. Youngblood personally experienced–even though my professor certainly had superior biblical knowledge compared to the Latter-day Saint with whom he dialogued.
Studying the original as well as studying other versions of the Gospel are necessary to determine their similarities and differences.
Earlier, I wrote that Jenkins “insists that he has tried to be very clear in the past but he has not always succeeded.” Jenkins titled his video “My definitive (final) comments on the ‘LDS issue.” However, this video is certainly not definitive and I hope these are not his “(final) comments.” Indeed, I’m afraid his latest attempt will not successfully deter critics (like me).
The charismatic Dallas Jenkins has been gifted with a special platform having possibly even more influence than his father had. He needs to see the danger of blurring the lines. After all, what if he assumes wrong and his LDS friends do not have a relationship with the same Jesus that he claims to have? If his LDS friends accept Mormonism as true and they hold to a different God and another Jesus, is this not “another gospel” as the apostle Paul described in Galatians 1:8, 9?
To just defend his friends’ beliefs without digging deeper into what they believe is not just naïve but dangerous for their spiritual welfare. It could also cause those considering Mormonism to possible join because, as the missionaries will say, “we are Christians too.” Paul says in Romans 11 that “blessed are the feet of those who bring good news,” but if someone does not see the problems of their world view, isn’t the possible messenger missing a tremendous opportunity?
To Mr. Jenkins, I respect your cinematography and story telling. Your series is first class. I just ask that you approach the issues discussed in this article with more humility and allow yourself to be more teachable. Caution is required here, not boldly digging yourself into a position that the Bible does not support.
For an overall look at the major doctrines of Mormonism in 1,000 words or less for each, visit CrashCourseMormonism.com.