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Bob Dylan's Salvation: Testimony Of Jesus' Love And Grace

Bob Dylan's Salvation: Testimony Of Jesus' Love And Grace
Bob Dylan Saved! What a headline, and it’s true. Read how Jesus revealed Himself to this lost young man and inspired him to write.

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Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016.

I didn’t believe the headline. Was this a joke? Wasn’t this guy the rock ‘n roll singer? Were his songs literature?

The Nobel Prize people thought so “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

“He can be read and should be read, and is a great poet in the English tradition,” said Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy.

OK, but does his work qualify as Christian Literature? I checked our GUIDELINES: Our two essentials to qualify as “literature” are these:

  1. It is personally experienced directly by the reader and

  2. Its purpose is serious, consequential, and of enduring importance.

Bob Dylan’s lyrics meet these. But what about the “Christian” element?

Here’s the criteria:

The purpose of Christian literature is to build the kingdom of God, to build up His people and to reinforce our faith. It is Gospel oriented and presents Christian themes, characters and situations in ways that will glorify God and connect readers with our Christian heritage and culture and demonstrate the lasting and persuasive truth of the Bible and its worldview.
The author will be a Christian, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, faithful to Him and to the testimony of the people who claim Him as their Savior.

Come along with me on a journey taking in Bob Dylan’s life and work so that we can see if that is so.

Bob Dylan entered my life just after I entered college.

When I think of that time, the lyrics of his then-popular song run through my mind:

How does it feel, ah how does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone. 1965

That described me as well as Dylan in 1965, but the Lord brought me home in 1975 and Dylan a few years later. But Dylan, being Dylan, kept it quiet, at least for a while. He was digging into his salvation behind the scenes. But it should have been a headline. He was the king of the counterculture, the poet of Rock ‘N Roll.

Bob Dylan Saved!

That’s how I would have written the headline, but the WASHINGTON POST chose this one:

Bob Dylan’s Song of Salvation

It includes a long interview with Dylan and recounts some of his conversion experiences. It begins:

Bob Dylan has finally confirmed in an interview what he has been saying in his music for 18 months: He is a born-again Christian.
Dylan, 39, said that he accepted Jesus in his heart in 1978 after a “vision and feeling” during which the room moved: “There was a presence in the room that couldn’t have been anybody but Jesus.”

Wonderful as this is, there is a more detailed and powerful testimony in THIS ACCOUNT from the UK:

“Jesus put his hand on me,” he went on, “It was a physical thing. I felt it. I felt it all over me. I felt my whole body tremble. The glory of the Lord knocked me down and picked me up.”

What an astonishing testimony! You will be blessed in reading it all, but for our purposes here, we are interested in how this commitment to Jesus Christ and the Gospel impacted those prize-winning lyrics.

Bob Dylan’s Christian Lyrics:

They appear in the 3 studio albums he made in 1979-1981, Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love. His solid faith and commitment to Jesus and the Word of God come through over and over again:

The lyrics in the chorus of the first track:

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed 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 Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

This is a powerful thought, an inspired reality that comes only from God. Dylan here restates in 20th-century language the ancient question posed by the prophet Elijah on Mt. Carmel:

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.1 Kings 18:21

But Bob Dylan answers right away, in I Believe in You:

Don’t let me drift too far, Keep me where You are Where I will always be renewed And that which You’ve given me today Is worth more than I could pay And no matter what they say I believe in You

On the Bob Dylan website the “you”’s are lowercase, but in the 2014 publication of the Lyrics (edited by Christopher Ricks among others, and priced at $299) the “You”’s are capitalized to show they refer to the Lord Jesus Christ. In his introduction to Lyrics, Ricks points out that the distinction between “him and Him” cannot be vocalized but must be seen on the page to be understood.

This is a key point. During the 1980’s many “love songs to Jesus” were written without mentioning His name and by wording the lyrics so the song could be marketed to a non-Christian audience. Dylan’s work removes any doubt we may have

And this is the heart of our faith:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus in John 3:16

It is not the answer many seek, especially those who value works for salvation. But believing is the work, and Dylan understands this:

Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. -John 6:39

St. Paul amplifies this by including the Resurrection:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. Romans 10:9

Believing in Jesus means we renounce our pride and own righteousness, as Dylan says,

When a man he serve the Lord It makes his life worthwile It don’t matter ’bout his position It don’t matter ’bout his lifestyle Talk about perfection I ain’t never seen none And there ain’t no man that’s righteous No not one

This too echoes the ancient text from David’s Psalm:

God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Psalm 53:2

Dylan affirms his belief in You and Him with the opening stanza of When He Returns, the last song in Slow Train Coming.

Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask How long can you falsify and deny what is real? How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal? Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne When He returns

While we here are focusing on the lyrics as literature, we should also remember that more power and convictions come through when it is sung. WIKIPEDIA cites this example:

Dylan scholar Tony Attwood refers to a live version from 1980 asthe one Dylan performance that could convert a sinner such as me”. It can certainly be understood as an altar call.

We won’t know until Eternity how many souls were saved through the Gospel lyrics in Bob Dylan’s lyrics, but their authenticity convinces me that he was!

Bob Dylan Saved

Dylan doubled down on his born-again experience with his 1980 studio album Saved. Here he rejoices in salvation and thanks God that he was saved by the “blood of the Lamb,” and I rejoice with him.

He goes on to express his faith in the Bible, creation, and the reality of Heaven and Hell. “In the Garden” drew into my memory the well-known hymn of that name, “Pressing On” reminded me of “Higher Ground.”

But the main thrust of Saved is Dylan’s continuing commitment to Jesus and His kingdom. Fittingly, its title is the same as an older, well-known hymn, Solid Rock.

The themes in both are the same, the unmovable Rock that Jesus Christ is. Dylan makes it clear he know this and is holding on to Him fast:

Well, I’m hangin’ on To a solid rock Made before the foundation of the world Won’t let go and I can’t let go Won’t let go and I can’t let go Won’t let go and I can’t let go no more

Oddly, “solid rock” is not capitalized in the 2014 Lyrics publication, particularly so because Moses and St. Paul did (KJV):

And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:4

But Dylan overcomes that oversight by clearly stating in the verse:

For me, He was chastised, for me, He was hated For me, he was rejected by a world that He created He makes it quite clear that he is resting in Christ’s Saving Grace; Well, the death of life, then come the resurrection Wherever I am welcome is where I’ll be I put all my confidence in Him, my sole protection Is the saving grace that’s over me

Bob Dylan is not satisfied with his own salvation.

He invites all who will listen to this plea, the last track of Saved:

Are you ready to meet Jesus? Are you where you ought to be? Will He know you when He sees you Or will He say, “Depart from me?”

He finishes up with this chorus:

Are you ready? (Get ready!) I hope you’re ready? (ready, are you ready?) (Are you ready? Get ready!) (Ready, are you ready?) (Are you ready? Get ready!) (Ready!)

We will close today with this call and extend it to all who read this testimony of a man whose life was changed by the Lord Jesus Christ. That call Dylan makes has been made before and for a long time! 2000 years!

And just as Jesus saved Bob Dylan, he wants to save everyone who comes to Him. And that includes you: Listen to Jesus’ promise:

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. – John 6:37

Dylan’s plea to get ready was perhaps an answer to an earlier plea he made, in a song by another poet of Christian literature, Fanny Crosby, one Dylan sang in his 1999-2000 tour:

Pass me not, O gentle Savior, Hear my humble cry, While on others Thou art calling, Do not pass me by. Refrain: Savior, Savior, Hear my humble cry; While on others Thou art calling, Do not pass me by. Let me at a throne of mercy Find a sweet relief; Kneeling there in deep contrition, Help my unbelief. [Refrain] Trusting only in Thy merit, Would I seek Thy face; Heal my wounded, broken spirit, Save me by Thy grace. [Refrain] Thou the Spring of all my comfort, More than life to me, Whom have I on earth beside Thee? Whom in heav’n but Thee? [Refrain]

–Fanny Crosby, 1868 You can listen to Dylan sing this on YOUTUBE.

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