Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, describes the significance of dreams in Islamic culture, saying,

 

In Muslim cultures, generally speaking, people don’t see themselves as being able to commune with God. Communion is a very Christian concept and the idea that Christ has torn down the veil — in a lot of cultures the veil is still up. In Islam, for example, people don’t expect to have God talk back to them personally, as the Holy Spirit isn’t living in them. They ask God for guidance through dreams; that’s like the one way that Muslims expect to hear from God.[1]
Qureshi’s description is consistent with many stories of Muslims having dreams that lead them to Christ. Franklin Graham sees legitimacy in some of these stories, saying, “I can’t explain it…I’m not even going to attempt to explain it. I just tell you, it happens. God is at work in that part of the world in a great way.”[2] In light of such accounts, Bob Paulson asks an important question: “What should Christians make of such spectacular stories?”[3] Some are skeptical, as the legitimacy of such occurrences would seem (at least to some) to threaten the cessationist view of sign gifts. I would suggest, though, that these occurrences actually have absolutely nothing to do with the cessationism or non-cessationism discussion.

dreamsThe stories are typically of unbelievers having dreams that point them to Christ, but spiritual gifts are at work in believers, members of the body of Christ by virtue of the baptism of the Holy Spirit – a baptism which every believer has had.[4] These events are not spiritual gift events. Spiritual gifts are for the edifying of the body, not for evangelism of unbelievers.[5] Certainly, evangelists were given as gifts to the church, and clearly their purpose was to proclaim the gospel to those who were not part of the church, however these dream events are not happening with evangelists, but rather with those needing to become aware of the good news. In short, these dreams are not related to gifts of the Spirit. But if not, then how should we understand them?

One of the Holy Spirit’s roles during the church age is to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.[6] There is no discussion of how He does this, but the fact is that He does. Could He possibly use dreams to accomplish this convicting work?

Dreams are only referenced a few times in the New Testament,[7] and while we see that God revealed Himself using dreams throughout the Old Testament, there is no indication that He does so during the church age. Further, the teaching in 1 Corinthians 13 of the ceasing of the revelatory gifts would seem to preclude the possibility that dreams today are divine revelation. Instead, it seems more likely that the dreams described by Qureshi and others have more to do with the Spirit’s convicting than any revelatory function.

It is especially interesting that these things are taking place in geographic regions and cultures which are generally more accepting of the mystical than is our own. Western culture is rooted in a rationalistic idea, while Eastern cultures are often less rationalistic and more responsive to mystical concepts. It makes sense strategically that God might convict people in those cultures in such a way that is sensitive to their own cultures. In the West it seems that stories of conviction are generally (though not exclusively, of course) more rationally based, and are matters of thinking and understanding. It is worth noting that Paul was sensitive to culture and utilized rather than ignored it when he had Timothy circumcised,[8] when he didn’t have Titus circumcised,[9] and when he worked with Athenian culture rather than condemning it.[10] Perhaps in the same way, the Holy Spirit is convicting people within mystical cultures using dreams – something they would recognize as significant.

It is also important to be aware that cultures with a mystical grounding are more prone to overt demonic activity, so we need to be careful not to simply assume that in every case the Holy Spirit is at work.

One point to consider is that as a strategist, Satan might be more likely to use demonic activity out in the open in mystical cultures where people can be easily influenced by mystical occurrences. Whereas in cultures that are more materialistic or rationalistic, it would be foolish to introduce overt demonic activity – the goal of Satan and his forces is not to get people to believe in Satan, but rather to keep them from believing in Christ. Like Kevin Spacey’s character in The Usual Suspects says, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”[11] It is to be expected that there would be more apparent spiritual activity in cultures that are more open to spirituality. Consequently, we should be cautious about hasty conclusions that wherever there are mystical experiences, God must be working in those instances. In many cases, He might be, but there are also other possibilities.

One person has a dream that points them to Christ, and another has a dream that points them away from Christ. We cannot assume that just because someone had a dream that it was prodding from God. Perhaps it was simply a dream, or perhaps there are other influences at work. Either way, we can be confident that God is not presently giving new revelation through dreams, as He has done in ages past, but we can also be confident that the Holy Spirit does indeed convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and He is very effective at it. Perhaps the dream phenomena are part of that ministry, or perhaps not. In either case, we thank God that people are being led to Christ, whether through the prodding of dreams or other ways. And we are cautious to rightly distinguish between the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the church, and His ministry to unbelievers.

 

[1] Nicola Menzie, “Report: Isis Fighter Who ‘Enjoyed’ Killing Christians Wants to Follow Jesus After Dreaming of Man in White Who Told Him ‘You Are Killing My People,’ http://www.christianpost.com/news/report-isis-fighter-who-enjoyed-killing-christians-wants-to-follow-jesus-after-dreaming-of-man-in-white-who-told-him-you-are-killing-my-people-139880/.

[2] Bob Paulson, “A Move of God in the Muslim World,” http://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/september-2014/a-move-of-god-in-the-muslim-world/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] 1 Cor 12:13.

[5] Eph 4:11-12.

[6] Jn 16:8.

[7] Mt 1:20, 2:12, 13, 19, 22, 27:19, Acts 2:17, and Jude 8.

[8] Acts 16:3.

[9] Gal 2:3.

[10] Acts 17:23.

[11] The Usual Suspects. Directed by Bryan Singer. Los Angeles, CA: MGM Studios, 1995.

%d bloggers like this:
Read previous post:
New Book Announcement: Introduction à l’herméneutique et à la méthode d’étude biblique

Available now, from Publications Chrétiennes is a new book by Dr. Christopher Cone –Introduction à l'herméneutique et à la méthode d'étude biblique, the...

Close