Posted by Gary on July 17, 2008
I am aware that I am thirty years late for discussion concerning Bob Dylan and the Christian faith. I remember some years back my partner in the ministry David listening to a cassette of Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming” and his comment that it was some of the best Christian music he had ever heard. I didn’t think much of it because I had never really been a Dylan fan and had made a separation with much of the music I had once listened to.
Since moving to Delaware I have a friendship with Jared Morris a talk radio host on WGMD 92.7 F.M. Jared and I do a show together twice monthly and discuss the Christian faith, the Bible and what is going on in the world in light of God’s truth. Jared often uses Dylan for his bumper music and I recognized one of the songs as Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” I decided after all these years to listen to Slow Train and I can only say that it is wonderful music, it is Biblically faithful and penetrating.
Few people’s spiritual lives have been discussed more than Dylan’s. I am not out to say much about Dylan’s standing with God except that I must confess concern. Dylan’s witness was so bold at one time and his music so intentionally committed that today’s cryptic approach leaves one uncertain. Our commitment to Christ is not to be left to question. I am not among the Dylan bashers, I pray that he will finish out his days declaring Christ boldly as he once did. I don’t believe this means Dylan should only play his Christian music by the way.
I have found Dylan’s Christian music so inspiring and challenging that I am quite willing to say that it makes much of what is being released by Christian artists today seem spiritually paltry in comparison. When you consider that Dylan paid a real price for singing and speaking for Christ, it makes his music all the more powerful and appealing. In comparison, many Christian artists today are seeking to do all that they can to be accepted by the world.
You see the YouTube embed above, this is concert footage of Dylan performing “What Can I Do For You?” a song that declares all that Christ has done for the believer and then asks what the believer can do for Christ in return. It is classic Dylan (harmonica and all), and it leaves one asking, “Do I ask Christ this question?” “Is it really my heart’s desire to be pleasing to Him?”
“I Believe in You” found on Slow Train is a moving statement of the belief that is created in the heart of someone that God redeems. This has been my favorite of Dylan’s Christian songs thus far. It is full of references to the price Dylan was paying at the time:
“They look at me and frown, they’d like to drive me from this town. They don’t want me around, cause I believe in You.” …
“They show me to the door, they say, ‘Don’t come back no more’ cause I don’t be like they’d like me to.”…
“Though the earth may shake me, though my friends forsake me, even that couldn’t make me turn back.”…
“When He Returns” (also on Slow Train) is a ballad (Dylan’s voice and a piano) about the return of Christ. This isn’t sentimentalism, it is powerful.
“Man Gave Name to All the Animals”(Slow Train) has to wear on you. At first you might call it corny. Simple, repetitive accompaniment and at times forced phrasing to keep the theme going but it holds forth the truth that God made the world and a man (Adam) which as we know is a bold stand in itself. Then you come to the end which is brilliant, you listen and find out what I mean.
How about this for a title, “Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody”. This was not released on any of Dylan’s three gospel albums but you can find video on YouTube.
Check out this performance of Gotta Serve Somebody. I don’t know what the occasion was, it appears to be a music awards show, look at who is in the audience, stars galore and then listen to the song Dylan sings to them-gutsy!
There is so little coming out today in Christian music that I want to listen to or that helps me in my faith. Dylan’s music does. It is sad to hear people speak of this as just a phase in Dylan’s career. God forbid that it was only that. The true mark of God’s work is that it will prevail and become unmistakably evident in a person’s life. May God grant it to be so in Bob Dylan’s life.
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