Though Bob Dylan declined interviews for the book, Restless Pilgrim is an engaging defense of the songwriter’s spirituality
Bob Dylan’s conversion to Christianity in 1979 sent shock waves through the rock ‘n’ roll community as he shelved such tour classics as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone” in favor of his new, Christ-centered songs. By 1982, rumors held that Dylan had renounced Christianity. Author Scott Marshall contends in his new book, Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan, that the aging troubadour still believes in Jesus.
Marshall, who wrote the book with Florida-based author Marcia Ford, wasn’t able to interview Dylan but spent more than three years researching public records and interviewing more than 70 people, many of whom know Dylan, to produce this analysis of the artist’s spirituality.
Marshall says that as a Christian Dylan was harshly criticized for preaching during his tours. Lyrics to two of his albums released around that time, Slow Train Coming and Saved, were overtly Christian.
Dylan refused to play anything but his new Christian songs during a West Coast tour immediately after he professed faith in Jesus–drawing the ire of both fans and critics. In 1983, rumors surfaced that Dylan, a Jew, had renounced Jesus to once again embrace Judaism.
Marshall points to two events that could have originated the rumors. Around that time, Dylan attended his son’s bar mitzvah and then took part in a study group with rabbis. Marshall thinks neither of these actions should be construed to mean Dylan lost faith in Jesus, particularly when the author’s research shows comments to the contrary.
“I think he really began looking into his Jewish heritage,” Marshall says of this period in Dylan’s life. News reports of Dylan’s attending a bar mitzvah and being in the company of rabbis likely snowballed into rumors that he had returned to Judaism, Marshall believes.
“I think there’s been a lot of misunderstanding,” he told Charisma. “If you really look at what’s [in the public record] you can see that Dylan has maintained his faith.”
A CD tribute to Dylan’s “Christian” period by traditional gospel artists, titled Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan, is slated for release in March. Because Dylan sings some backup and did a duet on the project, Marshall believes this is more evidence of Dylan’s keeping the faith. “If he had renounced Jesus, then why in the world would he get near this project?” he asks.
Though Marshall believes the famous songwriter’s faith is intact, he admits it may have wavered at times over the years.
“I’m not trying to hold Dylan up as some model Christian,” he says, but adds he thinks people should be understanding if they believe that the way Dylan has walked out his faith hasn’t met their expectations.
“Sometimes as believers we are hard on our brothers,” he says.
Marshall said he fell in love with Dylan’s music in 1986 when he first heard one of his greatest-hits albums but that he neglected Dylan’s Christian songs until he became a Christian in 1993. His natural curiosity about Dylan’s faith in Jesus led first to research and then to a manuscript. Both Christian and secular publishers shied away from his work–the former because Dylan didn’t connect strongly enough with his faith, the latter because they didn’t want to address his faith in a book, Marshall said.
Relevant Books, publisher of Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2, released Restless Pilgrim as the second book in its Spiritual Journey series.