Lyric For The Day 23.5.11 from Every Grain Of Sand by Bob Dylan
AN ORDINARY KIND OF MIRACLE - Philip Orr

BOB DYLAN AND CHRISTIANITY - STOCKI SURMISES WHAT HAPPENED

Dylan Infidels 

Bob Dylan had a very public Christian conversion at the end of the seventies that most people would say lasted the length of his trilogy of albums based on said faith; Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot Of Love. When Infidels kicked in 1983, the Mark Knopfler guitar sound that brought the trilogy in signalled the end of his preachy era and the critics were relieved. So did Dylan lose his faith? Did he return to Judaism as many suggested the time? Personally, and this article is my personally surmising, I don’t see any evidence that Dylan rejected Jesus at this point. A song from the trilogy would feature in most of his concerts through the next decade. A few years later he was introducing In the Garden live in concert as a song about his hero. Much later he would add old spirituals like Somebody Touched Me and I Am The Man, Thomas to the set. Those who reject faith are less likely to continue having any involvement or mention of it. Dylan has never shown disdain to Christianity.

So what might have happened? Well I have no real insight into Dylan’s world, who has! I am, however, well placed to comment on the evangelical world that Dylan found his faith in. My hunch is that Dylan didn’t reject what the Vineyard Church of his conversion taught him but that he started asking questions that the narrowness of evangelical Christianity of the time could not answer the wider questions that an artist like Bob Dylan would be asking. For the vast majority of the 21st century the vast majority of evangelical Christianity had become very narrow and pietistical. I would surmise that when Dylan took that six month of Bible Classes it would have been concentrating on prayer, daily Bible study and personal holiness. This comes out in Dylan’s trilogy. Where Dylan brought some political concerns to Slow Train Coming by the time he got to Saved it was all very personal stuff and the wider agenda of Dylan’s previous career was lost in testimony songs and warnings of apocalypse very rife at a time when Hal Lindsay was then what Harold Camping is now with movies about Christ’s imminent return featuring in cinemas!

Evangelical Christianity had reacted very badly to the dubious theology that Walter Rauschenbusch had added to his brilliant Social Gospel. They had, as so often happens down through Church history, thrown the baby out with the bath water. That had led to what John Stott had declared the greatest heresy of the twentieth century; the lack of social concern among evangelicals. Jim Wallis was starting something different in his fledgling Sojourners that would become a real force in American evangelicalism and indeed wider society by the turn of the century but it was too early to have given Dylan the breadth he needed.

Evangelical Christianity is a great maternity ward for faith. It has birthed so many people in their spiritual lives. For many years though it has been very poor at spiritual growth after the birth. It speaks a lot about being born again, as indeed Bob Dylan did on Saved, but it lacked and maybe still does in many places with growing up again. I am sorry Dylan never got the chance to be nurtured in his faith, to have been able to have taken in the questions, applied them to his faith. I think that we do see hints of how he has attempted that on his own – What Good Am I, I & I, Ring Them Bells and Dignity to name a few – but oh to have had him engage with Christian thinkers like the aforementioned Wallis, Walter Wink, Stanley Hauerwas and Calvin Seerveld. It is a shame!

Comments

David

Always dangerous to argue from silence, even if I agree with some of your critiques of modern pietistic evangelicalism. Also always wary of treating recent converts as poster-boys/girls for faith or trophies of grace, whether they be celebrity Christians or "ordinary joes". Was embarassed by a lot of what was written about Dylan at the time of the aforementioned "trilogy"... if anything, that was one of the things that prompted me to look beyond the issue of conversion to that of discipleship... I wonder did anyone ever help Dylan to do the same?

Jerrycstanaway

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Jerrycstanaway

Dylan has never renounced his belief in Christianity.

David Rodriguez

Hi Jerry: It would be interesting to read the reason why you say Dylan never renounced. Can you expand?

Kent Svendsen

Great article. I play a number of songs from Dylan's Christian albums and every time think to myself. "How can somebody who can so clearly describe their conversion experience and have such a mature Christian testimony stop and walk away?" I recently bought his book which describes his experiences and life history. I was hoping to read about his conversion and find some explaination as to why he just seemed to quit. There was an entire decade missing as far as the time line (and you guessed it) it was the time prior to and after his three Christian albums. Some say Evangelical Christianity gave him a very hard time because he wanted to continue on the secular singing circuits and they only wanted him to do church concerts. I seem to remember him singing a Christian song on Saturday Night Live or some other late night show shortly after his conversion experience.

The Slicer

Dave, and Guys.... what silence?! I'd take a leap and suppose that Dylan's hardly entirely orthodox - what chance had he in the environment he was left with when he started to ask the reaching questions that his songs testify to. But silence?.... It's all there in the songs... old ones that he still sings.... AND newer ones. "Spirit on the water, darkness on the face of the deep...", when the deal goes down, make you feel my love, I and I, ring them bells, everything is broken... to name just a few.

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