Bob Dylan and My Spiritual Life

Most people who know me are well aware that Bob Dylan has been the background soundtrack of my life since my early teens.  Blood on the Tracks and Street Legal were the first albums I remember, although it was Slow Train Coming which really influenced me.  I was raised in a Christian home and went to a Christian high school, but I never was attracted to the Christian Music which was coming out at that time.  To be honest, it was really bad. With the exception of Larry Norman and the very young Randy Stonehill and Phil Keaggy, there was not much to draw my attention.  Then came Slow Train.  I got a copy on 8-track tape and wore it out.  (Alright, wearing out an 8-track is not that big of a deal, but I did listen to it over and over!).  Dylan followed that up with Saved, some of the most honest gospel music every written.  There was no doubt in my mind that Bob Dylan was (as is) a brother in Christ. But then came Shot of Love and Infidels, albums which made people doubt he was “really saved.”  What kind of a  Christian writes songs about Lenny Bruce?  What could “Dark Eyes”mean?

I have seen video concerts from the Gospel years in which Dylan tells the crowd that the end times are coming and even asks for prayer requests.  He refused to play the old songs, considering them the Devil’s music.  His 1981 shows integrated more of his “hits” but still included healthy doses of Gospel songs.  But like most good things, Evangelical Christians failed to understand Dylan’s conversion and subsequent lack of Christian commitment.  What did they expect, Bob Dylan covering Sandi Patti songs?  (He actually did cover a Dallas Holm song, but that was an exception!)  Dylan has always been his own man, and he would not be co-opted by anyone (he does not work on Maggie’s Farm, ever).  I am not sure Evangelicals were well-equipped mentally to deal with what it means for a secular Jewish Rock Star to convert to Christianity.  So much was going on in his life, spiritually and emotionally, that it is remarkable he was able to emerge from those years and produce some of the best music of his career.

But for me, Dylan remained a spiritual beacon light.  While not overtly Christian (like Saved), his lyrics continued to be spiritually motivated.  Every “Grain of Sand” is one of his best songs, and probably his best “spiritual” song.  “The Groom’s Still Waiting” has an apocalyptic worldview worthy of Revelation.  He has never really stopped playing songs from the Gospel Years in concert, opening his controversial China concerts with “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,” a highlight from Slow Train.  As I get older with Bob, I hear much more Christianity and Judaism in his lyrics than ever before, and I amazed at how much I missed when I was younger.  Maybe I am hearing him through my Christian lens, but with only a few exceptions, his resonate with the important questions of life and my ear hears echoes of eternity in them.

So here’s a happy birthday wish to Bob Dylan, may you continue to walk the paths of victory.

3 thoughts on “Bob Dylan and My Spiritual Life

  1. Hello there, I was searching for the term “was bob dylan really saved” and came across your blog. I find it very interesting. I have been a “wayward” Christian most of my life and also a Dylan fan too. So I was totally blown away when I found out he had become a Christian. I bought and have bought several copies of his Saved and Slow Train Coming CD’s. But I recently came across a YouTube video of an interview with Bob on 60 minutes where they asked Bob some pretty pointed and revealing questions. Namely “why are you still doing this” meaning touring and putting out albums…to which Dylan replies “because I made a deal and I am holding up my end of it” the interview probes deeper and asks who he made the deal with, to which Dylan implies the devil, which he calls the “Commander in Chief” “the one who rules this world and the things we can’t see”.
    Now this interview was done in 2004 which is long after his “gospel experience” so I got to wondering “what was that all about”!
    I too believe that Dylan was saved beyond a shadow of a doubt and heard rumors that Keith Green was the one who led him to the Lord but after seeing this video I am wondering if Dylan was really saved or if he has just backslid so bad that he no longer believes he is saved…so my search goes on for proof of his genuine salvation experience I do hope to see him in Glory some day.

    • Thanks for the comment. As I said in the post, I hear echoes of faith in many of his songs, even those which are after his so-called religious period. He continued to play gospel songs until the more recent tours, and often did other “classic” gospels songs (probably from listening to the Stanley Brothers gospel recordings). I think that Dylan is in fact saved, but likely struggles with faith in ways I cannot imagine, since he is a wealthy rock star, everyone wanted to pull him into their circle after he became a Christian! I also assume his Jewish roots are a factor in his faith.

      Check out the compilation of Gospel songs from 2003, Dylan participates in this recording on the last song. The DVD this article mentions is excellent, interviews with a number of people who knew Bob during his evangelical years.

      I am not sure Keith Green was involved, that is a persistent story over the years (as is “baptized in Larry Norman’s pool,” which has to be apocryphal, since if it were true, Larry would never never shut up about it!) From the documentary I mentioned, he was involved in an early form of the Vineyard movement, one that targeted “stars” and helped preserve their privacy.

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