Busy Being Born Again:
Bob Dylan's Christian
FRANCIS J. BECKWITH
Mary wore three links of chain
Every link was Jesus name
Keep your hand on that plow, hold on
Oh Lord, Oh Lord, keep your hand on that plow, hold on
(Bob Dylan, Gospel Plow)
These lyrics are from “Gospel Plow,” a traditional folk song that Bob Dylan sang on his first album, Bob Dylan. Although released in 1962, this song would be, by most accounts of Dylan's life and work, better suited for his so-called “Christian albums,” issued between 1979 and 1981. But I think there is reason to reject that judgment, and to view these latter albums— Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love— and the theological instruction Dylan offers his listeners in them, not as isolated from his larger body of work, but part of a lifelong project to come to grips with the deeper moral and metaphysical questions that have always found a place in Dylan's art, both before and after his Christian conversion.
Bob Dylan's conversion to Christianity was, to say the least, controversial for several reasons.1 Dylan was born into a Jewish
1 See Howard Sounes, Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan (New York:
Grove Press, 2001), pp. 306–351.