Does God use dreams and visions today? This post will attempt a middle view between cessationism and continuationism. Some might call this “cautionary cessationist” or “concentric cessationist.” In this first post we will explore the depths of the problem, and discover the chasm is very vast. In the second post, we will propose a middle solution. Among American populism, just turning on the mainstream Christian radio introduces anyone to this issue. The lyrics, “Give me revelation, show me what to do. ‘Cause I’ve been trying to find my way, I haven’t got a clue”[1] resounds to the minds of many uncertain Christians faced every day with hundreds of major life decisions. On the other hand, some Christians hear those lyrics and think, “Has not God already given us enough revelation to ‘equip us for every good work’ (2 Tm. 3:16)?” Even moving past mere populism and looking at those Christians who are founded upon historical orthodoxy, the issue of continuing revelation still prevails. For example, John MacArthur calls Colton Burpo’s dream popularly recounted in the book Heaven is for Real along with many other such visions and dreams of heaven a hallucination.[2] Conversely, Nik Ripken, an International Mission Board missionary, speaks of dreams and visions as a common experience by his or other’s personal testimony.[3] Also, Samuel Storms, a popular Baptist pastor and theologian, says, “ ‘dreams’ and ‘visions’ are not only prophetic but also characteristic of the life of the church in the present age,”[4] when explaining the Day of Pentecost.

Thus, the queries become very clear: Does God reveal Himself through the avenues of dreams and visions today as He did many years ago? If not, should we discount the personal testimonies of those unreached who have believed by dreams and visions, and also their belief? If so, do these dreams and visions act authoritatively alongside of scripture and deny the doctrine of Sola Scriptura?[5] As seen above, theologians and lay people alike have come to many different conclusions on this issue; however, unlike what any one side argues in particular, God can reveal Himself through dreams and visions, but these revelations are nothing more than what is revealed in His already given Word and they are not normative. The two overarching positions will contrasted to the greatest extent to be brought to their logical conclusions (namely to bring their opponent to repentance). Afterwards, the opposing proponents inconsistencies or allowances will be examined in light of scripture in order to promote a biblical synthesis.

The two major positions labled as continuationist and cessationsist throughout for sake of simplicity.[6] Both the continuationist and the cessationist understand God revealing Himself by means of dreams and visions is equivalent with the spiritual gift of prophecy. Continuations would argue that the gift of prophecy continues to this day. Cessationists believe that prophecy (which would be classified as a sign gift) has ceased with the death of the last Apostle.

Before diving into the opposing views, it would be important to define what is meant by the term miracle. The popular cessationist definition differentiates the different Greek terms utilized then designating not only meaning, but also purpose. W. A. Criswell defines miracle by such means as, “an interruption, an intervention, in the system of nature as we know it…for introduction, for authentication, for corroboration, for substantiation.”[7]  On the other hand, John Frame argues that due to the wide semantic range of the words that are sometimes translated ‘miracle,’ “we should not assume that word studies of these nouns will cover the biblical data broadly enough to generate and adequate definition…”[8] Also, relying merely on contra-nature to define the miraculous is counterintuitive to the scriptures which clearly teach that God is in control of all nature. Miracles can be simply explained as “spectacular demonstrations of God’s character.” Thereby, miraculous gifts would be those abilities given by God to believers to spectacularly show His character. This would be things such as the gift of prophecy.[9]

Charismatic beliefs gained traction just this century with its influential leaders and revivals. At the same time its influential leaders and revivals cause others to stay far away. Charismatics believe that the Spiritual gifts continue to this day and are normative for the church. Prophecy would be included in their list of Spiritual gifts that continue. What should especially be brought to forefront is that this is seen as normative. Charismatic leaders encourage their followers to experience dreams and seek out visions by looking to the very day of Pentecost. On that day, Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32 in reply to the indictment that these people speaking in tongues were merely drunk. Charismatics argue, as Samuel Storms has done above, that because of the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh lead to prophesy in this instance, then it is normative for the church.

Wayne Grudem in his popular Systematic Theology also defends prophecy as normative for today. In fact, Grudem anticipates and argues against one of the biggest objections to his position: “would the continuation of prophecy today challenge the sufficiency of scripture?”[10] Grudem defines prophecy as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.”[11] He normalizes todays prophecy by exploring differences in the semantic ranges of the words for “prophecy” and “prophet” between the Tanakh and New Testament. Because of these differences New Testament prophets (along with those today) do not speak with the same authority as the “thus sayeth the LORD” prophets of the Nabi’im (which is why believers do not go around canonizing all the modish prophetic utterances). The main arguments from scripture for this dichotomy of prophets comes from Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 14:29-38, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.” With Grudem’s position, one would argue these prophets are speaking spontaneous thoughts from God that should be tested. Some might raise an objection immediately: if the spontaneous thoughts come from God why must they be tested at all? In a sense, the “testing” seems to reject the portion of the prophecy “from God.” However, Grudem goes on to argue that the spontaneous that the spontaneous thoughts by vision or dream or perhaps what secularists may call the conscience does not err; the prophet’s words may err in trying to describe their revelation.[12] Thus, they must be tested.

If the normative practice of prophecy is orthodoxy, then it should most definitely lead to orthopraxy.  As Grudem points out, Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:39, “So, my brethren, earnestly desire to prophecy.”[13] This could be seen as a Charismatic ultimatum. Cessationist churches do not seek or encourage prophecy. Are they outright disobeying an Apostle’s command? Should Charismatic churches call their cessationist brethren to repentance on this issue?

Rather than remain on the defensive, some Cessationists turn this argument on its head. Some, like Phil Johnson, argue Grudem’s redefinition and limitations prophecy makes does not really make this to be a continuation of the same gift the Holy Spirit bestowed on the first century believers:

For example, in Wayne Grudem’s book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Wheaton: Crossway, 1988)—probably the single most important and influential work written to defend modern prophecy—Grudem writes that “no responsible charismatic holds” the view that prophecy today is infallible and inerrant revelation from God (p. 111). He says charismatics are arguing for a “lesser kind of prophecy” (112), which is not on the same level as the inspired prophecies of the Old Testament prophets or the New Testament apostles—and which may even be (and very often is) fallible… In other words, modern charismatics have already adopted a cessationist position. When pressed on the issue, all honest charismatics are forced to admit that the “gifts” they receive today are of lesser quality than those of the apostolic era.[14]

One of the main Cessationist arguments come from 1 Cor. 13:10, “when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” Partial here is referring to prophecy and speaking in tongues. The entire defense for either view depends on the term perfect. Charismatics view the term eschatologically referring to the Parousia or plausibly glorification. This allows for the continuing of prophecy until the end of the church age. On the other hand, John McRay in his textbook Paul, navigates the semantic variation of to teleion within the Pauline corpus. He determines the meaning is historical by comparison of the structures of Eph. 2:11-4:13 (the use of telios in 4:13) and 1 Cor. 12:2-13:10. In other words, the full maturity of the church is reached in Gentile inclusion through the great gift of love.[15] And, he would continue to argue, because this maturity was achieved historically, the partial has also passed away.

And such would be the Cessationist ultimatum. If these sign gifts have truly ceased, then Charismatics would be presuming upon God by adding Words to His sacred scriptures. Are Charismatics worshiping God in a way God did not desire to be worshipped, offering fire like Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-11)? If so, Cessationists must implore their Charismatic brethren to repent lest they be destroyed by the Consuming Fire as well.

So, betwixt two sides sit a vast chasm. The implications and logical conclusions are too looming to simply be ignored by the alternative position. Safeguards of experiential defense are placed in order to maintain strong foundations on either side. The Charismatics claim testimony that cannot simply be denied; however, the Cessationists also look to the evidence the Charismatics have provided such as “grave sucking” or barking like dogs which also cannot be denied (or supported by the Holy Spirit). There are also inconsistencies on either side. As Phil Johnson mentioned earlier, most evangelical charismatics deny the exact continuation of the gifts the Apostles and others had in New Testament times. Also, one can commonly hear Cessationist lay people claim “I just feel God leading me in this direction” (which Grudem would classify as spontaneous revelation given by God). Perhaps, both sides are arguing in order to bring all believers to the same, consistent, Biblical position.

[1] Third Day, “Revelation” (video), October 24, 2009, 1:39-2:05, accessed March 19, 2016,

[2] John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven (Second Edition): the Truth About Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life, 2 ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 37ff.

[3] Nik Ripken, Insanity of God: a True Story of Faith Resurrected (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2013), 280.

[4] Samuel Storms, “The Power of Pentecost,” Enjoying God (blog), February 22, 2006, accessed March 19, 2016,

[5] This paper will not go on to defend orthodox positions on the nature of scripture (i.e. inerrancy, inspiration, sufficiency, et. al.), but will continue to operate on this as a presuppostional truth founded on correspondence with reality and justified in coherence with other truths.

[6] The further distinctions between Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wavers will not be discussed; however, for sake of simplicity, they will be all classified together as “continuationists.” As well, numerous distinctions could be made of the ceasationists that also will not be enumerated.

[7] W. A. Criswell, Baptism, Filling and Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 75, 79.

[8] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002), 245.

[9] An important distinction must be made about dreams and visions in particular. Even though the majority of continuationist and cessationist scholars will include dreams and visions under the category of the spiritual gift of prophecy, dreams and visions can also be given to unbelievers as attested by Pharaoh in the Patriarchal Narratives. Therefore these dreams and visions would not be the “spiritual gift given to believers to God” per se, but they are nonetheless spectacular events given by God to attest to his character.

[10] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England.: Zondervan, 1994), 1039.

[11] Ibid., 1050.

[12] Ibid., 1057.

[13] Ibid., 1060.

[14] Phil Johnson, “You’re Probably a Cessationist, Too,” PyroManiac (blog), n.d., accessed March 21, 2016,

[15] John McRay, Paul: His Life and Teaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 426-435.