Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thinking Missiologically About Dreams

imageA woman my wife was discipling had an amazing dream about Jesus where he gave her the Injeel and told her to read it.  She was excited for a while but she didn’t seem to grow.  Incredibly, she also didn’t seem to read the Bible!  She came over to our house again last month and said that she dreams about us all the time. 

Stories about Muslims having dreams can be amazing.  But as Bob Blincoe says, “Dreaming is not discipling.”  Dreams don’t sustain spiritual growth or health.  So how should we think missiologically about our Muslim friends having dreams (and visions)?

Here are a couple thoughts to ponder (remember this is just an amateur blog post):

  1. Dreams happened in the Bible.
  2. Dreams are happening today.  In the Dudley Woodberry study on Muslim conversions to Christ, dreams were on the list of influential factors. (1. The lifestyle of Christians, 2. Answered prayer, 3. Miracles and the power of God in specific situations, 4. Healing 5. Dissatisfaction with the form of Islam or individual Muslims they had experienced, 6. Dreams and visions.)
  3. Asians and Africans have lots of spiritual dreams.  And they usually attach more emphasis to their dreams than Westerners do.  I’ve had Muslims tell me that Mohammed appeared to them in a dream.  I’ve also had Muslims tell me of Americans who have had dreams of Mecca and then converted to Islam.  Dreams are more important to my Muslim friends than they are to me.
  4. There are two errors in regards to dreams, and both are related to “split-level Christianity.”  One error is to deny that God uses them, and the other is to say that God is only working if dreams are present.
  5. Everyone has a different, unique path that they travel to Christ, and there are various factors that lead people to him. In Asian and African cultures (not just Islamic), dreams are a more common conversion factor than in Western cultures.
  6. Dreams can come from God, Satan, or they can come from our imagination.
  7. When John Piper says he is “suspicious” of Muslims hearing the gospel and responding in faith in a dream about Jesus, he is not saying dreams don’t happen.  He’s saying he is suspicious that they are usually the decisive conversion event.  I’ve never heard a story where someone heard the gospel and responded in a dream (have you?).  In the first-hand and second-hand stories I’ve heard, the dream pointed to something, either Jesus, the Bible, or a worker who would share the gospel.
  8. Even the charismatic Paul who had a knocked-on-your-back type conversion event said the gospel is to be communicated through human messengers so that it can be heard and responded to in faith (Rom. 10:13-17).
  9. New research shows that we might be making too much of dreams.  In his study into Palestinian conversions to Christ, Ant Greenham says, “missiologists might find my discovery on dreams useful. Less than half the fifteen Palestinian respondents mentioning dreamlike experiences did so of their own accord [22 converts were interviewed]. Those doing so reflected the key role the experiences played in their conversions. The others associated dreams with their conversions but did not experience them as life-changing encounters. Consequently, dreams or dream-like experiences only stand out when they are a primary vehicle for a convert’s transforming encounter with Christ. This insight on the Palestinian Muslims’ dreams may not be mirrored exactly elsewhere, as other researchers will record the incidence of converts’ dreams (and other phenomena) differently. However, it seems fair to claim the sheer presence or absence of a dream-like experience is unimportant. The essential element to look for is a convert’s transforming encounter with Christ” (pg 174, emphasis mine).

So how should we integrate these insights?  Here are two words of advice:

  1. Those of us who get all uptight about dreams need to embrace the fact that our Muslim friends will have them.  We need to use the dreams (and all events in their lives) to point them to Jesus himself.
  2. Those of us who get all hyped-up about dreams need to refocus on Jesus himself.  Dreams are expendable (Greenham says “unimportant”), but hearing and experiencing the good news of Jesus is not.

Ok, so these are my initial thoughts.  Go ahead and practice 1 Thess. 5:21 and weigh in on the comments below so we can learn from each other.


Quixotic Iconoclast said...

I was able to lead an Orthodox background Arab friend to Christ because of a dream where Jesus appeared to him. It hasn't made discipling him easy -we still struggle with Bible study. He's also had another dream where the Virgin Mary appeared to him.

I think dreams have a purpose in some cases, but we have to be very careful about placing too much importance on them.

Warrick Farah said...

Here is a review by Woodberry on a book called Dreaming in Christianity and Islam: