Bob Dylan has been a significant figure in pop culture for more than 50 years and is one of the most influential songwriters of the 20th century. He is best known for songs that chronicle social and political issues. The legendary singer-songwriter received Grammy, Academy, and Golden Globe awards, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Jewish-born, iconic musician accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in the late '70s. He surprised everybody by declaring that he had become a born-again Christian. To be born-again means "born from above." When you are born again, you experience a spiritual transformation, a total change of heart.
After converting to Christianity, he went through a discipleship course at a Southern California Calvary Chapel. Dylan also released two gospel albums: "Slow Train Coming" and "Saved." Dylan's "Slow Train Coming" was a commercial hit and won Dylan his first Grammy Award.
Thousands of fans were outraged following his public declaration of faith. According to writer and musician Michael Simmons, their reasons at the time were clear.
"Dylan represented free-thinking, anti-establishment values, you know, 'don't follow leaders'. And here he was following the ultimate leader," Simmons said.
"He was basically saying it was Jesus' way or the highway. The old rap — you either follow Jesus or you go to hell," Simmons continued.
During one of Dylan's tours, fans protested, and people walked out. One concert-goer held up a sign: "Jesus loves your old songs".
Critics were also blistering. A journalist from the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Dylan has written some of the most banal and uninspired songs of his career for his Jesus phase."
In the early '80s, rumors began to surface that Dylan renounced Christianity. This belief followed a fourth "Christian" album failing to materialize which also fueled rumors that he was no longer a man of faith. Around this time,
Dylan's religious leanings became less overt in his music. Al Kasha, a Messianic Jew who led Dylan to Christ, believes the singer-songwriter never lost his faith, according to a Godreports blog by Dan Wooding.
"I am absolutely thrilled that Bob has shown through this new record that he has never lost God's calling in life. He's never given up," Kasha said, about the album.
"I get upset when people think that he has because you don't write all these songs just out there," Kasha said. "It takes time to write them and they're all about Christ so I've said this in the past - the media has hurt rather than helped him."
In 2016, a handwritten letter reflecting a strong Christian faith by Dylan went up for auction, CBN News reported. This letter was written around 1980 to a friend named Steve.
In the letter, Dylan writes, "We are up in Toronto singing and playing for about 3,000 people a night in a downtown theatre – The Spirit of the Lord is calling people here in their beautiful and clean city but they are more interested in lining up for Apocalypse Now than to be baptized and filled with the Holy Ghost."
It is speculated that Dylan is referring to the film, "Apocalypse Now," that hit theaters in 1979, He played in Toronto the following year.
Dylan continues his letter to Steve, "Wanna thank you for that Bible as it is helpful in discovering a few phrases from and shedding more light on what the King James version reads – God will lift up your heart as you begin to realize that 'He thru Christ has reconsiled (sic) man unto Himself' (II Corinthians)."
There are many Christianity references in the letter.
"You will be strong in the Lord and seeing that looks are deceiving, you will work miracles that way – He has called you to be a saint, and your responsibility is to him and him alone –," Dylan wrote. "Be praying and not looking back no more – press on toward what is ahead – I send love to you and will pray for strength and more strength for ya."
Dylan concluded the letter, "Always in the name of Jesus Christ Son of God, Manifest in the flesh," a bold profession of faith.
The executive vice president of RR Auction, Robert Livingston, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the letter is incredible.
Dylan's conversion to Christianity was reportedly so unpopular that John Lennon recorded a track called "Serve Yourself" as a parody of Dylan's 1979 song. In 2012, after years of many speculating over his faith, Dylan reported that he still believed in Jesus.
"It's rare that you see handwritten letters from Bob Dylan on the market," Livingston said. "You may see notes or lyrics but not real composed letters like this."
"This remarkable letter offers enormous insight into Dylan's thoughts during a critical period of his career," a description on the auction website read.
To convert means "to turn." When we turn towards one thing, we, by necessity, turn away from something else. The Bible describes "repentance" as a change of mind about sin and a change of mind about Jesus, and then a turning to Jesus in faith. Dylan converted to Christianity and shared his faith and love for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ both publicly and privately. As a result, he built a closer relationship with God. When we turn to Jesus, our lives turn around.