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The Gospel According to Bob Dylan

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Bob Dylan

Today is Bob Dylan‘s 70th birthday. The outspoken “prophet” of the turbulent 1960’s has never ceased to be an enigma to many of his friends, and adversaries.

During the “Jesus Movement” Dylan found his way into a California Vineyard church and began studying the Bible. Dylan attended a course held at the Vineyard School of Discipleship, which ran four days a week over the course of three months.

“At first I said, ‘There’s no way I can devote three months to this,'” Dylan would say in a 1980 interview. “‘I’ve got to be back on the road soon.’ But I was sleeping one day and I just sat up in bed at seven in the morning and I was compelled to get dressed and drive over to the Bible school.”

I remember growing up listening to Dylan’s gospel albums (yes, those black vinyl discs that look like frisbees), bank in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. It’s amazing how bold and direct his message was. Especially now as we are swimming in Postmodern uncertainty, it is refreshing to hear a voice of clarity promoting moral absolutes. Dylan proclaimed:

You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

I mean, think of what a radical thing it must have been for the hippie generation to hear their icon declaring:

I was blinded by the devil
Born already ruined
Stone-cold dead
As I stepped out of the womb
By His grace I have been touched
By His word I have been healed
By His hand I’ve been delivered
By His spirit I’ve been sealed

I’ve been saved
By the blood of the lamb
Saved

That’s telling it straighter than most preachers today! Dylan was booed by his fans and concert attendance dropped off dramatically. Dylan once lamented:

Years ago they … said I was a prophet. I used to say, “No I’m not a prophet” they say “Yes you are, you’re a prophet.” I said, “No it’s not me.” They used to say “You sure are a prophet.” They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, “Bob Dylan’s no prophet.” They just can’t handle it.

Somewhere in the mid-1980’s Dylan became disillusioned with at least institutional Christianity and distanced himself from public proclamations of faith. Regardless of Dylan’s own personal faith (or lack of it) today, he has left a body of work exploring the Christian faith that is well worth considering.

Don’t let me change my heart
Keep me set apart
From all the plans they do pursue
And I, I don’t mind the pain
Don’t mind the driving rain
I know I will sustain
’Cause I believe in you

Israel Wayne is an author and conference speaker who writes on cultural issues from a Biblical worldview.

2 Responses to “The Gospel According to Bob Dylan”

  1. rcjr says:

    I have yet to see or hear any definitive evidence that Mr. Zimmerman has left the faith. It may be wishful thinking on my part (my last conversion experience came in high school while listening to Saved) and still love his music. But one continues to hear at least elliptical allusions to the faith in his more recent music. Deciding to be more coy and not making such direct albums is not a repudiation of the faith. Thanks for this Israel, and happy birthday Mr. Zimmerman.

  2. Sara says:

    Great article, Israel. What an amazing thing to consider a journey like his, saturated in the secular music world, and yet still recognizing his Savior. I agree with the previous poster that even though he may be keeping his faith silghtly more veiled nowadays doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have that saving faith. Perhaps it’s a self-preservation mechanism for the world in which he operates.

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