The Hal Lindsey Effect: Bob Dylan’s Christian Eschatology
ARTICLE BY Jeffrey Lamp, Oral Roberts University
Abstract: In the thought of popular Christian personality Hal Lindsey, Bob Dylan found a theological construct that would inform his own Christian experience in three significant ways. First, Lindsey’s popular eschatological teaching informed Dylan’s own understanding of the end times, which is evident in his lyrics and in his more prosaic pronouncements. Second, Lindsey provided Dylan with a heuristic for bringing together the Jewish and Christian strands of his religious pilgrimage. Third, Lindsey’s views on Israel’s place in God’s end-times plan and his stance that human political influences played no significant role in establishing the kingdom of God informed Dylan’s political philosophy of “Christian anarchism.”
Keywords: Bob Dylan, Hal Lindsey, eschatology, Christianity
Bob Dylan’s so-called “Christian/gospel period” has received renewed, and in many cases appreciative, attention in recent years. In 2017 a pair of key works documented Dylan’s output during the period 1979–1981, the years in which Dylan’s albums Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love appeared. The thirteenth entry in the Bootleg Series, titled Trouble No More, a nine-disc set that included studio and live recordings from this period along with Jennifer Lebeau’s documentary film of the same title, was released, along with Clinton Heylin’s book, Trouble in Mind, which provided a narrative of the period. With reports of Dylan’s conversion to Christianity in 1978, the release of the gospel-themed Slow Train Coming in 1979, and a gospel-only tour launched later that year, Dylan’s fan base reeled in shock and, not infrequently, anger. The passage of nearly four decades has allowed for a more reasoned appraisal of the material from this period, with scores of studies emerging in academic circles analyzing both the music and its creator.
My initial interest was to determine theological influences on Bob Dylan’s eschatology, as seen in such songs as “When He Returns” and “Are You Ready?” As it turned out, a strong candidate quickly emerged: Hal Lindsey, a well-known minister whose famous book The Late Great Planet Earth had captured the imaginations of millions of readers in the 1970s with its sensationalistic interpretation of biblical teachings on the end times. This finding was not only obvious; it was highly disappointing. As I continued my research, I began to see that the influence of Lindsey’s book on Bob Dylan was more intricate. Anticipating the results of this study, Hal Lindsey’s eschatology functions in a multi-faceted way in Dylan’s thought. At a basic level, Lindsey provides the newly converted Dylan with a specifically Christian source of imagery to direct Dylan’s long-established appropriation of prophetic biblical language in his new gospel way. At another level, Lindsey’s emphasis on the role of Jews and the current state of Israel in God’s end time program provided Dylan with a heuristic that allowed him to integrate the Judaism of his background with his new Christian faith. At yet another level, Lindsey’s thought provided Dylan a way to express what has been called his political “anarchism” in a way consistent with his new Christian faith. First, though, we need to look at what Hal Lindsey brings to the table and how he and Bob Dylan found themselves there together.
The Dylan-Lindsey Connection
Hal Lindsey, born November 23, 1929, is a well-known twentieth- (and twenty-first-) century figure on the American religious landscape, having first and most prominently made his mark with the publication of his best-selling book The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970. Lindsey was educated at Dallas Theological Seminary, the educational bastion of a theological position known as dispensationalism. In its basic form, dispensationalism holds that God’s dealings with human beings follow in a series of historical epochs, or dispensations, each administered by a certain kind of covenantal relationship. The foundations of dispensationalism involve creative exegesis of such biblical texts as Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel, along with apocalyptic passages from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 24:1–44; Mark 13:1–26; Luke 21:5–28) and passages from certain of Paul’s letters (e.g., Romans 9–11, 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12). Lindsey made his own distinctive contribution to dispensationalism by providing a further degree of exegesis that included reading certain twentieth-century events into the dispensational framework. The resulting presentation was The Late Great Planet Earth, a highly sensational prophetic oracle that portrayed recent history as the harbinger of the impending end of the age.
For Lindsey, the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 marked a key event in God’s prophetic program. It marked the point at which God would begin to fulfill ancient promises made to the Jewish people but that had been put on hold with the coming of Jesus as the Messiah and the inauguration of the “church age” in which Gentiles would be granted access to God’s kingdom. It also marked the beginning of the last days. It would only be a short time before the church would be “raptured” from earth to heaven by Jesus, the world would enter into a seven-year period of tribulation, and Jesus would return and establish his 1,000-year-long, or millennial, reign on earth with his redeemed people. Precursors to this event were certain portents, such as famines, earthquakes, and wars. But most fantastically, recent historical events were sure signs that these things were about to come to pass. Lindsey read certain political movements and crises as fulfillments of biblical prophecies. The emergence of Arab nations surrounding the state of Israel and their growing economic and military power were a constant threat to God’s chosen people. Moreover, Cold War tensions were a sign that the Soviet Union would become the great Gog and Magog that would attack Israel from the North (cf. Ezekiel 38–39) in the last days. China would be the great force from the East that would join the battle (cf. Revelation 9:16), and the European Economic Community, which would be a revived Roman Empire headed by the Anti-Christ (cf. Daniel 2:42), would attack from the west. The climactic battle would occur in the battle of Armageddon (cf. Revelation 16:13–16), where the Messiah would decisively crush these forces. Significantly, Lindsey did not see the United States prefigured in biblical prophecy, which may indicate, in his thinking, that the United States had ceased to be a major world player by the time of these events. Nevertheless Lindsey does speak to the degrading moral condition of the United States throughout the book, seeing this as portending the coming of the last days.
The point of intersection between Lindsey and Bob Dylan takes place within the context of the emerging Vineyard Fellowship, a loosely connected group of worshiping communities in Southern California founded by Kenn Gulliksen. Gulliksen was on the staff of Calvary Chapel under the pastoral leadership of Chuck Smith when he established a church in Los Angeles in 1974. Dubbed the “pastor of love” by Smith, Gulliksen found a following among the so-called Jesus People Movement of the 1960s and attracted several actors and musicians with Vineyard’s laid back atmosphere and contemporary worship style. The Vineyard at this point did not have a formal theological statement. Hal Lindsey identified with the Vineyard early on and had become close friends with Gulliksen, and so Lindsey’s eschatological teaching unofficially became the position of the Vineyard.
Bob Dylan’s conversion to Christianity took place within the context of the Vineyard Fellowship. In early 1979, his girlfriend at the time, Mary Alice Artes, had been attending a Vineyard church and facilitated a meeting between Dylan and some pastors on staff, Larry Myers and Paul Emond. After his conversion, Dylan surprisingly attended the Vineyard’s School of Discipleship, where some of the themes of Lindsey’s eschatological vision were taught. Dylan also read The Late Great Planet Earth, and was quite taken with it.
Dylan’s familiarity with this book is confirmed in an account by music writer James Riordan on the occasion of Dylan’s 70th birthday. Riordan had just relocated to the Los Angeles area in 1978 and somewhat out of the blue decided to visit a Vineyard Fellowship church service. Sitting near the back, he heard someone singing along to “Amazing Grace” in a rather distinctive voice. He turned and saw it was Dylan. Deciding not to encroach on Dylan’s space in church, Riordan after the service went to the bookstore onsite and perused the latest edition of Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. From behind him, Dylan made the comment, “Hey, that’s a pretty good book, ain’t it?” Part of Riordan’s motivation for moving to Los Angeles was to make the book into a film (though this was already underway). Deciding not to share this with Dylan, he simply agreed with Dylan’s assessment of the book and the two parted ways. As Riordan made his way to his car in the parking lot, Dylan pulled up to him, rolled down his window, and said, “Hey, see you next week, huh?” This sparked a brief conversation where Riordan shared with Dylan his intention to make Lindsey’s book into a film. According to Riordan, Dylan gave him his phone number and asked Riordan to call him should he be able to schedule a meeting with Lindsey’s people. Riordan was never able to connect with Dylan after that, and the plan for the movie never came to fruition. Yet the anecdote, if true, illustrates Dylan’s connection with Lindsey’s book.
In 2017, Seth Rogovoy wrote a piece in the Jewish online magazine, Forward, in which he shared his change of opinion on the quality of Dylan’s work during his gospel period. Asking the question, was Bob Dylan at his best when he was a Christian?, Rogovoy noted the importance of Hal Lindsey’s book in Dylan’s new Christian walk, saying, “Dylan was very much parroting Lindsey’s line” in his songs and stage raps. Someone brought this piece to Lindsey’s attention, so on his website, Lindsey rejoiced that after four decades, someone still “blames” Lindsey for his role in Dylan’s Christian conversion. Just how much Lindsey is to “blame” for Dylan’s conversion is debatable, but there is no question that, at least in matters of helping Dylan express his newfound Christianity and his own eschatological views, Lindsey’s influence is significant.
Lindsey and Dylan: The Verbal Connection
To be sure, Bob Dylan did not need Hal Lindsey to introduce him to the prophetic biblical texts that informed some of Dylan’s gospel-era songs. Dylan’s indebtedness to the Bible for his imagery has been well-established. As he has stated in an interview with John Pareles of The New York Times in 1997, Dylan’s lexicon and prayer book for his beliefs are the songs of his early musical nurture, extending as far back as the 1930s. Though Jewish, Dylan found inspiration in the gospel songs of such acts as the Carter Family. Many of these songs, interestingly, emerged from a strand of twentieth-century fundamentalist Christianity that was quite at home within classical dispensationalism. Moreover, his early upbringing as a bar mitzvahed Jewish boy certainly exposed him to some of the biblical sources of this faith, including prophetic texts, and Dylan’s visits to Israel in the earlier part of the 1970s seem to indicate an interest in his Jewish background. Moreover, Dylan did not need Lindsey to introduce him to apocalyptic imagery, as songs such as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” clearly indicate. Finally, he did not need Lindsey to provide him with the worldview of biblical prophetic justice. Theologian Francis J. Beckwith has argued, “[I]f one carefully inspects Dylan’s Christian albums, one will find an individual who found in the Christian faith an account of the deep moral and social principles that had been lurking behind his pre-Christian work for quite some time.” So if Dylan was conversant with biblical imagery that is related to the kinds of pronouncements Lindsey made, what does Lindsey’s particular expression have to do with Dylan?
If the songs in some way function as Dylan’s lexicon, then it may be fair to say that Lindsey provided the new Christian Bob Dylan with a syntax for expressing this vocabulary. This may be seen in his lyrics, his on-stage raps during his gospel tour of 1979, and in interviews. To each of these we now turn.
Songs from the albums Slow Train Coming and Saved show clear influence of the brand of eschatology touted by Lindsey. In the song “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,” Dylan draws from New Testament references to the return of Jesus in the following verse:
Jesus said, “Be ready
For you know not the hour in which I come”
Jesus said, “Be ready
For you know not the hour in which I come”
He said, “He who is not for Me is against Me”
Just so you know where He’s coming from 
The suddenness and inability to know of the time of Jesus’ return is standard biblical teaching. Dylan’s emphasis in the final line, laying out the battle lines of allegiance, though biblical, is put here in the context of Jesus’ return. Such an emphasis is at home in Lindsey’s dispensational framework, where eternal destiny is determined based on one’s fealty to Jesus in the final hour.
In many segments of Christianity, the return of Jesus is not viewed in such dread terms. Rather, it is an event that constitutes the very hope of Christians wherein God in Jesus Christ “sets the world to rights,” bringing an end to every evil and establishing a kingdom of joy and righteousness. Yet Dylan, like Lindsey, seems preoccupied with the wrathful side of this event. This is seen clearly in “Are You Ready?”
Are you ready for the judgment?
Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?
Are you ready for Armageddon?
Are you ready for the day of the Lord?
In an alternative couplet from the song “When You Gonna Wake Up” Dylan warns of the sword of judgment that waits to be wielded against those who work unrighteousness in the world when Jesus comes back for his people:
there’s a sword being flashed for all those in sorrow & despair
you won’t find it so hard to imagine when you meet it in the middle of the air 
This delight in the judgment and wrath of God at Jesus’ return finds further expression in “When He Returns.”
The iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God
. . .
Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
For like a thief in the night, He’ll replace wrong with right
When He returns (verse 1)
. . .
He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew (verse 2)
. . .
Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask
. . .
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 (verse 3)
In some discarded lyrics to this song, Dylan connects the biblical teaching to specific historical circumstances of the time. Verse 1 finds the following alternative lyrics:
The communists might be frightenin’ you cause they only believe in man
& the capitalists might be exploitin’ you cause that’s part of their plan 
Verse 3 has alternative lines toward the end of the verse:
He’s got His own blueprint for a new government
It’s been prophesized from the beginning of time that He’ll return.
Communists and capitalists alike, with the specific evils of each, will meet a woeful end when Jesus returns to establish his kingdom. The return of Jesus brings with it a cataclysmic end to the current order of things.
In “Trouble in Mind,” an outtake from the Slow Train Coming sessions, Dylan provides alternative lyrics that indicate he sees even the neutron bomb as prophesied from the beginning:
It’s all been predicted
It’s all been foretold 
A key element of Lindsey’s interpretation of end time events is that the final conflagration leading to the world’s destruction is nuclear weapons. Dylan seems to agree.
This focus on contemporary events as evidence of an eschatological timetable is further attested in “Slow Train.” Here, in the following lyrics, the rise to economic and political power of Arab nations controlling America’s destiny is evidence that the “slow train comin’ up around the bend” draws ever closer:
All that foreign oil controlling American soil
Look around you, it’s just bound to make you embarrassed
Sheiks walkin’ around like kings
Wearing fancy jewels and nose rings
Deciding America’s future from Amsterdam and to Paris
And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend 
Such a situation certainly has “Jefferson turnin’ over in his grave” in the home of the brave. In Lindsey’s calculus, the precise role that America plays in the final stages of the eschatological drama is unclear, yet America’s worsening predicament in the world is a harbinger that the time of final reckoning draws nigh.
Even an ostensible love song, “Precious Angel,” contains allusions to Lindsey’s particular eschatology. Dylan laments his friends’ deception as the end time approaches and the dreadful consequences of their delusion:
My so-called friends have fallen under a spell
They look me squarely in the eye and they say, “All is well”
Can they imagine the darkness that will fall from on high
When men will beg God to kill them and they won’t be able to die?
In an alternative verse, Dylan provides more Lindsey-esque detail of the final battle between good and evil, again, in what is framed as more of a love song.
ARMIES OF MEN MARCHING INTO PLACE
THE KINGS OF THE NORTH & THE KINGS OF THE SOUTH SHOW THEIR FACE
& THE NIGHTWIND RESTLESS AS CAN BE
SOME RULED BY LOVE, SOME RULED BY THE DEVIL IN THE SEA
THE BATTLE BETWEEN RIGHT & WRONG
I KNOW IT WON’T BE LONG 
It is interesting that Dylan, even in the time when his faith convictions would come under scrutiny, continued to draw on this type of imagery in his lyrics. On the album Infidels (1983), “Neighborhood Bully” is a song that expresses Lindsey’s assessment of the current state of Israel in God’s eschatological program. The final descriptors of this “bully,” which clearly represents modern-day Israel, show him “standing on the hill / Running out the clock, time standing still,” perhaps alluding to the role of this bully as the time of the end approaches. Indeed, in verse 8, where the established lyrics say, “Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone / Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon,” an alternate lyric replaces the list of empires with the line, “& by one miracle or another he keeps going on,” accompanied by a marginal note that seems to connect this line to the date 1948, the year in which the modern state of Israel was established. The year 1948, as we noted earlier, is a crucial sign post in Lindsey’s eschatological framework.
In the years to follow, there would be occasional instances where Dylan’s lyrics reflect the imagery of Lindsey’s dispensational eschatology. On 1990’s Under the Red Sky, the song “God Knows” seems to reflect the imagery of the judgment of the earth in terms drawn from 2 Peter 3:6–7, an important passage in Lindsey’s scheme: “God knows there’s gonna be no more water / But fire next time.” In a similar vein, “Things Have Changed,” from the soundtrack of the movie Wonder Boys, contains the line, “If the Bible is right, the world will explode.” Again, this line is not at all a clear reading of the Bible; it is a clear reading of Lindsey’s eschatology.
In this brief survey of lyrics, there is at least circumstantial evidence that Dylan’s thought is influenced by Lindsey’s eschatology. One might argue that what we see here is nothing more than Dylan’s penchant for drawing imagery from the Bible. What we need to realize is that for centuries, Christians interpreted these biblical images in ways quite different from how Lindsey would come to understand them, and indeed, most Christians on earth today would take issue with Lindsey’s interpretations. What we see here is a particular slant on these passages that coheres closely with Lindsey’s. In other words, the biblical data themselves do not necessitate this interpretation. They only take on this interpretation when seen through a particular filter. Given Dylan’s early Christian context, it is reasonable to assume Lindsey provides this filter.
The Stage Raps
Of course, the lyrics provide the most substantial source for comparison with Hal Lindsey’s teaching. Another source, however, is the words Dylan frequently spoke during his concerts, especially during the gospel-only shows in November and December 1979. From November 1–16, Dylan performed fourteen shows in the Fox Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, California. The reaction to these shows, to be charitable, was mixed. On the one hand, the sheer energy of the music captivated many in attendance; on the other, many bristled at the gospel-only setlist, with some calling for Dylan to play his old material and others leaving the theater.
Regardless of its reception, the 1979 tour is useful for how Dylan addressed eschatological matters from the stage. As Dylan began his tour in San Francisco, his pronouncements amounted to little more than an introduction to his song, “Solid Rock.” Typical is the rap from November 6, when he offered about a sentence of eschatological warning: “You know we’re living in the last days of the end of times. In the last days of the end of times, you’re going to need something strong to hang on to, so this song is called ‘Hanging On To A Solid Rock Made Before The Foundation Of The World.’ You’re gonna need something that strong.” Throughout the Warfield Theatre shows, this song’s introduction would stay mostly consistent in wording and duration.
As the venue shifted to the Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California, for four shows November 18–21, the raps became more frequent and more developed. On the opening night of this leg of the tour, Dylan introduced the song “Slow Train” in the following way:
I suppose you’ve been reading the newspapers and watching the TV? And you see how much trouble this world is in. Madmen running loose everywhere. Anyway we, we’re not worried about that though — it doesn’t bother us — because we know this world is going to be destroyed. Christ will set up his kingdom for a thousand years in Jerusalem where the lion will lie down with the lamb — we know this is true. No doubt about it. So, it’s a slow train coming. It’s been coming for a long time, but it’s picking up speed.
Here Dylan draws attention to the destruction of the present world and the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, both key themes in Lindsey’s framework. Here we also see appeal to current events as portents of the approaching end of times.
When the tour stopped in Tempe, Arizona, for two shows at the Gammage Center November 25–26, Dylan began with a rap that added such typical Lindsey features as the battle of Armageddon, the involvement of Russia in the Middle East, and even the very near imminence of the end:
All right. Now don’t be dismayed by what you read in the newspapers about what’s happening to the world. Because, now, the world as we know it now is being destroyed. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s . . . it’s the truth. In the matter of a short time—I don’t know, maybe in three years, maybe five years, could be ten years, I don’t know—there’s gonna be a war. It’s gonna be called the war of Armageddon. It’s gonna happen in the Middle East. Russia’s gonna come down and attack first and you watch for that sign. Anyway, we’re not worried about that. We know there’s gonna be a new kingdom set up in Jerusalem for a thousand years. And that’s where Jesus will set up his kingdom, as sure as you’re standing there, it’s gonna happen. So this is called, “Hanging On To A Solid Rock Made Before The Foundation Of The World.”
The importance of this evidence is that it is prosaic in presentation. Lyrical presentation, especially Dylan’s, is always open to various interpretations due to its poetic nature. But these raps are more homiletical in nature and give insight into the sources of his pronouncements. The themes here strongly “parrot” Lindsey. We see Dylan getting bolder and more comfortable as he proclaims his message of the end of days, and his words could not be more clear for those with ears to hear.
It is with a bit of trepidation that one looks to interviews to discover what Dylan thinks on any topic. Rightly or wrongly, he has a reputation for being, at the very least, elusive with interviewers. However, on the topic of eschatology, he does give indications that he is being straightforward with his responses. Of particular interest here will be an interview conducted by Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone magazine in the June 21, 1984, issue. This interview is important for two reasons. First, it very clearly shows affinity with the views of Hal Lindsey on eschatological matters, and second, it was conducted at a time when Dylan was publicly less expressive of his Christian beliefs. His commitment to Christianity had come under severe scrutiny. The interview shows that, whatever his spiritual state, he remained steadfast in his understanding of how the world will come to its end.
When asked about his spiritual stance, Dylan replied first by affirming belief in a life beyond this one, then added, “I believe in the Book of Revelation. The leaders of this world are eventually going to play God, if they’re not already playing God, and eventually a man will come that everybody will think is God. He’ll do things, and they’ll say, ‘Well, only God can do those things. It must be him.’” Dylan’s attribution rings more true of 2 Thessalonians 2:1–4 than it does the Book of Revelation, but he captures the spirit of this antichrist figure so prominent in Lindsey’s thought. Following a line of questioning by Loder on the song “Neighborhood Bully,” where Loder presses Dylan on whether the song is an expression of Zionism or support for American military intervention on Israel’s behalf in the Middle East, Dylan denies such intentions for the song and diverts attention to the battle of Armageddon: “The battle of Armageddon is specifically spelled out: where it will be fought, and if you want to get technical, when it will be fought. And the battle of Armageddon definitely will be fought in the Middle East.” Again, vintage Lindsey.
Dylan also reflects Lindsey’s sense of uncertainty regarding the place of the United States in God’s eschatological timetable. Commenting on how the world had become more global, with the United States losing its sense of identity, Dylan attributes this evolution to the spread of instantaneous global communication in fulfillment of the book of Revelation. One frequent plank of Lindsey’s end time scheme is the idea that in the last days, knowledge and travel will increase exponentially, evidence of humanity’s arrogant overreach (cf. Daniel 12:4). The smaller, global world already present in the 1980s figures into America’s decline and acquiescence to the one-world government and economy under the leadership of the Antichrist, another key element of Lindsey’s scheme. Dylan seems to decry this move toward globalism and America’s place in the last days when he says,
Somebody’s gonna have to come along and figure out what’s happening with the United States. Is this just an island that’s going to be blown out of the ocean, or does it really figure into things? I really don’t know. . . . Right now, it seems like in the States, and most other countries, too, there’s a big push on to make a big global country—one big country—where you can get all the materials from one place and assemble them someplace else and sell ‘em in another place, and the whole world is just all one, controlled by the same people, you know? And if it’s not already there, that’s the point it’s tryin’ to get to.
Again, Dylan, in 1984, still “parrots” elements of Lindsey’s eschatological scheme, at a time when his own spiritual status seems unclear to the public. Whether through his lyrics, stage raps, or interviews, Dylan’s words frequently and over time betray an indebtedness to modes of expression at home with Lindsey’s eschatological worldview.
Lindsey and Dylan: A Spiritual Heuristic?
Is he or isn’t he still a Christian? This question has fascinated observers of Dylan and popular Christian culture for decades now. With the release of the album Infidels in 1983, many questions emerged as to whether Dylan had forsaken his commitment to Jesus Christ and returned to Judaism. In 1985, Vineyard Fellowship pastor and Fuller Theological Seminary professor Don Williams wrote a monograph to argue that Dylan had not discarded his Christian faith, and as late as 2017, Dylan’s spiritual journey was the subject of an investigation by Scott M. Marshall in his book Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life. In a provocative essay, Kathryn Lofton raises the prospect that in the study of history, it is very difficult, if at all possible, to know precisely what a person believes on any point because our subjects tend to be wilier and more equivocal in cataloguing their beliefs than our attempts to catalog their beliefs would suggest. Bob Dylan is the case study for her thesis.
I will not here seek to address the question directly. Rather, I will work from the premise that Marshall’s recent study provides the best overall take on what we may surmise about Dylan’s spiritual life.
Marshall’s study is a broad survey of Dylan’s whole life, seeking to frame the religious question in terms of a spiritual odyssey rather than a static taxonomic determination. Rather than seeing Dylan starting out as a Jew, discarding this in favor of evangelical Christianity, only to reject that in favor of a more informed Judaism following studies with members of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect known as the Lubavitch, Marshall argues that Dylan’s life and art reflect a spiritual quest that has evolved and developed without rejecting any of these elements. Rather, Dylan’s odyssey is a robust integration of all of these inputs. Marshall’s conclusion is that from his childhood, Dylan’s life and art have been the product of a synthetic engagement with both the Jewish and Christian strands of the biblical tradition. In his review of Marshall’s book, Francis Beckwith puts it this way: “Part of Marshall’s thesis is that the Dylan who emerges from his 1983 Lubavitch studies, and subsequently releases Infidels, is not a restored Jew who has rejected Christ, but rather, a Hebrew Christian who has a better and deeper sense of his Judaism and the way it shapes his understanding of the biblical narrative and his relationship with God.” Beckwith, we should note, deems Marshall’s conclusions as speculative, though “based on very good grounds.”
So if this assessment, speculative though it is, has any merit, how might Hal Lindsey’s thought have contributed to this odyssey? It is interesting to note that Lindsey is not mentioned by name, nor included in the index, in Marshall’s study. Yet I suggest that if indeed Lindsey has so influenced Dylan’s lyrics and prosaic pronouncements as we have argued earlier, it would stand to reason that perhaps Lindsey has contributed to Dylan’s ability to integrate both the Jewish and Christian strands of his spiritual journey.
Whatever the theological and exegetical merits of Lindsey’s program, one fact is undeniably clear: Lindsey’s program has a place of inclusion for the Jewish people in God’s end-time program that appreciates them as Jewish without the overtones of anti-Semitism that has often colored Jewish-Christian relationships over the centuries. The current nation-state of Israel, even though constituted largely as a secular state, plays a crucial part in the unfolding of the last days leading to God’s ultimate triumph over the powers of evil. The unfulfilled promises of God toward the houses of Judah and Israel are not spiritualized as referring to the Christian church, as in some Christian theologies. Rather, they are understood as yet-to-be-realized prophecies for the actual, historical Jewish people. Such an understanding would likely appeal to Dylan, who had become a Christian after visiting Israel in the 1970s and coming to a deeper appreciation of his own Jewish heritage. This interpretation could help him better understand a God revealed in Jesus the Messiah, a thoroughly Jewish Messiah, one who has not cast off the historical chosen people. So perhaps Hal Lindsey’s brand of dispensationalism provided a heuristic for Dylan to navigate his way through a conversion to Christianity in such a way as to not only accommodate his Jewish heritage, but also to be enriched by a deeper understanding of this heritage.
Lindsey and Dylan: A Political Framework?
From his earliest days as a public figure, Bob Dylan has been appropriated by various political movements despite his frequent protestations that he is not a voice for any generation or political position. His early embrace of folk music and so-called “protest songs,” his appearance at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, March on Washington in 1963, and performances at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993 notwithstanding, Dylan has mostly avoided endorsing specific political platforms. This is not to say that Dylan does not have political leanings; it is to say that Dylan does not put much stock in the ability of politics to solve humanity’s problems. As he told Kurt Loder in a Rolling Stone interview in 1984, “I think politics is an instrument of the Devil. Just that clear. I think politics is what kills; it doesn’t bring anything alive. Politics is corrupt; I mean, anybody knows that.”
In a recent monograph titled The Political World of Bob Dylan, Jeff Taylor and Chad Israelson present the case that Bob Dylan’s political stance is best characterized by the term “Christian anarchism.” Their case rests upon an analysis of Dylan’s political statements in songs, stage raps, and interviews, brought into conversation with H. Richard Niebuhr’s influential book, Christ and Culture. Taylor and Israelson argue that Dylan’s politics were always more expansive than those of the New Left during the 1960s. Over the decades, Dylan advanced socio-political ideas that resonated with both the political left and right, encompassing both traditional and populist views. Taylor and Israelson argue that within this mix the term “anarchism,” understood broadly as a distrust of and lack of confidence in political authorities to address the human condition, always fit Dylan. With Dylan’s conversion in 1978, his anarchism melded with a stream of Christian political thought that fit one of Niebuhr’s categories of the relationship between church and state, Christ versus culture. This was the position of the Jesus People of the 1960s out of which emerged the Vineyard Fellowship of Dylan’s early Christian nurture. The kingdom of God had its own agenda in the unfolding of human history and it did not depend on alliances with earthly political authorities for its realization.
Of course, history is replete with failed alliances between church and state. Within the United States today, the close identification of a brand of evangelical Christianity with the so-called “Christian Right,” and with Zionistic groups politically tied to the state of Israel, shows that the Christ-versus-culture paradigm is not the only possible approach to church/state relations. At the time of Dylan’s conversion, American politics was beginning to involve Christians in politics to effect religious goals on a social level. President Jimmy Carter, whom Dylan admired and for whom Dylan once performed, identified as a “born-again” Christian, and at this time, Christian conservatives were marshaling their forces to attack the newly legalized practice of abortion. It is possible that Dylan connected with some aspect of the Christian Right upon conversion. However, Dylan was deeply influenced by Hal Lindsey’s version of premillennial dispensational eschatology. As Taylor and Israelson put it, “Dylan’s newfound Christianity was in many ways less culture-bound than the average evangelical at the time — partly because it was new and he approached the Bible with the fresh eyes of a convert. Also, he had a more-spiritual, less-politicized understanding of Bible eschatology.” Lindsey’s eschatology had two things working in its favor. First, it was largely passive. It did not require much from Christians for the realization of the kingdom other than to engage in evangelism so as to hasten Christ’s return. As noted earlier, Dylan’s stage raps during the gospel tour of 1979 spoke of Christ’s return and typically included an exhortation for the audience to turn to Jesus in response. No amount of political effort would hasten the coming of the kingdom. Second, Lindsey’s eschatology was inclusive of the Jewish people. Given Dylan’s Jewishness both pre- and post-conversion, this eschatology, with its spiritualized focus on the last days, accorded well with Dylan’s predilection to distrust human political efforts as well as his focus on integrating the Jewish and Christian elements of his faith. The final reckoning that would usher in God’s age of righteousness and justice was wholly independent of political involvement. Lindsey’s eschatology enabled Dylan to integrate his newfound Christian faith with his established “anarchist” tendencies.
I confess a certain disappointment at the degree to which Hal Lindsey influenced Bob Dylan’s thinking. As a New Testament scholar and an ecotheologian, I find Hal Lindsey’s exegesis and hermeneutic of reading current events through the lens of prophetic biblical passages specious, and the implications of his eschatology frankly dangerous. Yet it is evident that Hal Lindsey exerted considerable influence on Bob Dylan’s art and patterns of thinking during this period. Dylan would be but one of millions of people who found, and still find, in Lindsey’s teaching a key to navigating perilous times within a Christian framework. In the case of Bob Dylan, Lindsey’s influence has clearly endured.
Beckwith, Francis J. “Busy Being Born Again: Bob Dylan’s Christian Philosophy.” Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Thinking). Eds. Peter Vernezze and Carl J. Porter. Pp. 145–55. Chicago/La Salle, IL: Open Court, 2006.
—. “Why Are We Worried about Bob Dylan’s Religion?” Crux, 31 July 2017. https://cruxnow.com/commentary/2017/07/31/worried-bob-dylans-religion/.
Björner, Olof. Still on the Road: 1979 First Gospel Tour. http://www.bjorner.com/DSN05060%201979%20First%20Gospel%20Tour.htm#DSN05080.
Bustraan, Richard A. The Jesus People Movement: A Story of Spiritual Revolution among the Hippies. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014.
Cott, Jonathan Cott, ed. Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.
Gilmour, Michael J. Tangled up in the Bible: Bob Dylan and Scripture. New York: Continuum, 2004.
Heylin, Clinton. Trouble in Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years—What Really Happened. New York: Lesser Gods, 2017.
Higgins, Thomas W. “Kenn Gulliksen, John Wimber, and the Founding of the Vineyard Movement.” Pneuma, vol. 34, 2012, pp. 208–28.
Lindsey, Hal. “Was Bob Dylan at His Best When He Was a Christian?” The Hal Lindsey Report, 2 November 2017. https://www.hallindsey.com/ww-11-2-2017/.
Lindsey, Hal, with C. C. Carlson. The Late Great Planet Earth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970.
Lofton, Kathryn. “I Don’t Want to Fake You out: Bob Dylan and the Search for Belief in History.” Cultural Icons and Cultural Leadership. Eds. Peter Iver Kaufman and Kristin M. S. Bezio. Pp. 152–166. Cheltenham, UK/Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017.
Marshall, Scott M. Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life. Washington, DC: WND Books, 2017.
Maxa, Rudy. “Bob Dylan Knocks on Heaven’s Door, Accepts Christ, Says a West Coast Pastor As the Music Biz and the Star’s Fans Await an Album To Explain It All.” Washington Post, 27 May 1979. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/magazine/1979/05/27/bob-dylan-knocks-on-heavens-door-accepts-christ-says-a-west-coast-pastor-as-the-music-biz-and-the-stars-fans-await-an-album-to-explain-it-all/78a25f0a-c879-4539-81db-d4866c3f0508/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.fff58eddb05a.
Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1951, 1975.
Riordan, James. “It Ain’t Easy Being Bob: A Retrospective on Dylan on His 70th Birthday.” Maddancer, 8 July 2011. https://maddancer.wordpress.com/2011/07/.
Rogovoy, Seth. “Was Bob Dylan at His Best When He Was a Christian?” Forward, 30 October 2017. https://forward.com/culture/qa/386298/was-bob-dylan-at-his-best-when-he-was-christian/.
Soulen, R. Kendall Soulen. The God of Israel and Christian Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.
Taylor, Jeff. “Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism.” Counterpunch, 25 November 2015. https://www.counterpunch.org/2015/11/25/bob-dylan-and-christian-zionism/.
Taylor, Jeff, and Chad Israelson. The Political World of Bob Dylan: Freedom and Justice, Power and Sin. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Williams, Don. Bob Dylan: The Man, the Music, the Message. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revel, 1985.
Wright, N. T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperOne, 2008.
Bob Dylan. “Are You Ready?” Special Rider Music. 1980. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/are-you-ready/.
—. “God Knows.” Special Rider Music. 1990. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/god-knows/.
—. “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.” Special Rider Music. 1979. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/gonna-change-my-way-thinking/.
—. “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.” Special Rider Music. 1981. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/grooms-still-waiting-altar/.
—. “Neighborhood Bully.” Special Rider Music. 1983. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/neighborhood-bully/.
—. “Precious Angel.” Special Rider Music. 1979. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/precious-angel/.
—. “Slow Train.” Special Rider Music. 1979. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/slow-train/.
—. “Things Have Changed.” Special Rider Music. 1999. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/things-have-changed/.
—. “When He Returns.” Special Rider Music. 1979. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/when-he-returns/.
 E.g., Rogovoy, “Was Bob Dylan at His Best When He Was a Christian?”
 Taylor and Isrealson, The Political World of Bob Dylan.
 The book was also published in 1973 by Bantam Books and again in 1977 by Zondervan. The book was also made into a motion picture narrated by Orson Welles and released in 1979.
 Bustraan, The Jesus People Movement, 63.
 Higgins, “Kenn Gulliksen, John Wimber, and the Founding of the Vineyard Movement,” 210–14.
 Maxa, “Bob Dylan Knocks on Heaven’s Door.”
 Heylin, Trouble in Mind, 23–25; Marshall, Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life, 34–35.
 Dylan recalls his compulsion to attend the School of Discipleship in Reseda, California, in an interview with Robert Hilburn in the Los Angeles Times, 23 November 1980, in Cott, Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews, 298.
 Kathryn Lofton asserts that Lindsey actually taught eschatology in the Vineyard School of Discipleship, though other sources surveying this period of Dylan’s life do not mention this. See her essay, “I Don’t Want to Fake You out: Bob Dylan and the Search for Belief in History,” 156. Heylin quotes Larry Myers as saying that Dylan studied under Kenn Gulliksen and “at least four other competent pastor-teachers, including myself,” so it is possible that Lindsey was among that number (Trouble in Mind, 28).
 Heylin, Trouble in Mind, 30–38.
 Riordan, “It Ain’t Easy Being Bob.”
 Rogovoy, “Was Bob Dylan at His Best When He Was a Christian?”
 Lindsey, “Was Bob Dylan at His Best When He Was a Christian?”
 E.g., Gilmour, Tangled up in the Bible.
 Bob Dylan, interview with John Pareles, The New York Times, 28 September 1997, in Cott, Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews, 419.
 Beckwith, “Busy Being Born Again,” 146. Beckwith identifies four areas in which Dylan’s early philosophy is developed in his Christian work: Dylan’s assimilation of the Christian narrative; human beings live in a moral universe; the moral law is objectively true; and it is important that human beings practice virtue.
 Dylan, “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.”
 Wright, Surprised by Hope, 109–13.
 Dylan, “Are You Ready?”
 “When You Gonna Wake Up,” typescript lyrics from Slow Train Coming, circa 1979, The Bob Dylan Archive, box 80, folder 02. Courtesy of THE BOB DYLAN ARCHIVE® Collections, Tulsa, OK. Spelling and punctuation retained from the original in all references to archival materials.
 Dylan, “When He Returns.”
 In some alternate lyrics from “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar,” Dylan expresses a similar sentiment regarding the place of communists and capitalists in the end time drama: “the communists were falling—the capitalists were crawling/the hand of God is moving—Jesus is calling” (“The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Alter,” typescript lyrics from Shot of Love, circa 1981, The Bob Dylan Archive, box 81, folder 01. Courtesy of THE BOB DYLAN ARCHIVE® Collections, Tulsa, OK).
 “When He Returns,” typescript and manuscript lyrics from Slow Train Coming, circa 1979, box 80, folder 01. Courtesy of THE BOB DYLAN ARCHIVE® Collections, Tulsa, OK.
 “Trouble in Mind,” typescript and manuscript lyrics from Slow Train Coming, circa 1979, box 79, folder 06. Courtesy of THE BOB DYLAN ARCHIVE® Collections, Tulsa, OK.
 Dylan, “Slow Train.”
 Dylan, “Precious Angel.”
 “Precious Angel,” typescript and manuscript lyrics from Slow Train Coming, circa 1979, box 79, folder 08. Courtesy of THE BOB DYLAN ARCHIVE® Collections, Tulsa, OK.
 Dylan, “Neighborhood Bully.”
 “Neighborhood Bully,” manuscript and typescript lyrics from Infidels, circa 1983, box 35, folder 06. Courtesy of THE BOB DYLAN ARCHIVE® Collections, Tulsa, OK.
 Dylan, “God Knows.”
 Dylan, “Things Have Changed.”
 Björner, Still on the Road. Olaf Björner’s website contains the texts of Dylan’s stage rants during the 1979 Gospel Tour. Clinton Heylin also provides several sample rants in Trouble in Mind, Appendix II.
 Björner, Still on the Road.
 Björner, Still on the Road.
 Bob Dylan, interview with Kurt Loder, Rolling Stone, 21 June 1984, in Cott, Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews, 306. Italics original.
 Dylan, interview with Kurt Loder, 308–9. Italics original.
 Dylan, interview with Kurt Loder, 310.
 Dylan, interview with Kurt Loder, 311. Italics original.
 Williams, Bob Dylan: The Man, the Music, the Message.
 Lofton, “I Don’t Want to Fake You out,” 152–66.
 Beckwith, “Why Are We Worried about Bob Dylan’s Religion?”
 For a survey of positions on the relationship between Israel and the Christian church, see Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology.
 Dylan, interview with Kurt Loder, 309.
 Taylor and Israelson, The Political World of Bob Dylan, 151–72, 194–99. The following summarizes these discussions. See also Taylor, “Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism.”
 Niebuhr, Christ and Culture.
 Taylor and Israelson, The Political World of Bob Dylan, 222.
 Taylor and Israelson, The Political World of Bob Dylan, 158–59.