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An Introduction to Dreams and Visions in the Bible and Today

Two areas of biblical experience that are often overlooked, or dismissed, today by a large portion of the church in the West are dreams and visions. We cannot deny that they were a part of biblical history; accounts of them are found in both the Old and New Testaments. In other parts of the world, even today, dreams and visions are being experienced. For example, in Muslim lands many Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus because of dreams and visions. Heather Mercer, an American who lived for a while in Afghanistan, mentioned this in an interview that she did with Voice of the Martyrs.7 Mercer was one of two Americans who were imprisoned in Afghanistan in 2001; her story is told in the book, Prisoners of Hope: The Story of Our Captivity and Freedom in Afghanistan. Kevin Greeson, who has ministered in large Muslim populations, also affirms that many Muslims are coming to faith in Christ because of dreams.8 Philip Johnson reports that in churches of the global South, prophecy, faith-healing, exorcism, and dreams and visions are basic parts of the Christian faith.9

Two areas of biblical experience that are often overlooked or dismissed by a large portion of the church in the West are dreams and visions.

So why are dreams and visions considered a normal part of Christianity in the Majority World and less normal in the West? Aren’t we are all reading the same Bible? Yes, we are all reading the same Bible. So why do we have such different perspectives and experiences? There are a number of possible explanations for why we do not typically accept dreams and visions as a normal part of Christianity in the West. First, there is the belief that since we have the Bible we do not need these other subjective, supernatural experiences.10 Ex-cessationist, Jack Deere, used to hold this view with regard to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit as well as dreams and visions.11 It is, of course, true that the Lord does speak to his people through the scriptures, but I do not think that this line of reasoning negates the possibility of present-day dreams or visions. The Bible never places an expiration date on dreams or visions; there are no biblical texts that can be pointed to in order to support the idea that they have ceased.

Closely related to the first reason why dreams and visions may not be widely expected or accepted in the West is the fear of subjective experiences.12 There is no doubt subjective experiences can be dangerous; it is possible for one, however sincere or well-meaning, to be deceived. The Bible speaks about false dreams and visions (Jer. 23:32; Ezek. 13:7), so this is a matter of legitimate concern. Not every subjective experience a person has is necessarily from God. One can be mistaken about the origin of a subjective experience. A person may think that his or her experience is from God, but it may not be; discernment is needed. Aids in discernment include the scriptures, the Holy Spirit’s gift of distinguishing between spirits (1 Cor. 12:10), and the counsel of mature believers.

In addition, some believers may avoid these subjects altogether. They do this in reaction to other Christians who place a very heavy emphasis on dreams and visions. Those who avoid the topics of dreams and visions are trying to steer clear of what they perceive to be an extreme. In the process, they cut themselves off from two biblical ways in which the Lord may communicate with them.

The last reason that I suggest is one that I mentioned earlier, namely, that many believers in the western church have not experienced divinely inspired dreams and visions. This can be a major hurdle to accepting these acts of God. Hopefully a fresh look at the biblical texts will help renew a biblical expectation and experience of these revelatory phenomena.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2015

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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