Dream Work in the Church

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr.John Weldon; ©2012
The assumed rationale for Christian dream work is found in four areas: 1) in the claims of secular psychology; 2) in the divine use of dreams in Scripture; 3) in the interest in dreams in church history; 4) in the current use of dreams by some Christian therapists and psychologists, largely dependent on the findings of secular psychotherapy. We question if any of these areas necessarily justify Christian dream work.

Dream Work in the Church

The assumed rationale for Christian dream work is found in four areas: 1) in the claims of secular psychology; 2) in the divine use of dreams in Scripture; 3) in the interest in dreams in church history; 4) in the current use of dreams by some Christian therapists and psychologists, largely dependent on the findings of secular psychotherapy. We question if any of these areas necessarily justify Christian dream work. To explain why, we will give a brief summary evaluation covering the four points mentioned above. Then we will cite several reasons why we believe Christian dream work should be questioned.

The claims of secular psychology. Neither secular nor Christian psychology has established a legitimate case for the value of dream analysis, or even a credible defense for secular psychotherapy in general:[1] We supplied some of the documentation for this in The Facts on Self Esteem, Psychology and the Recovery Movement (eBook).

Dreams in the Bible. The use of dreams in Scripture is distinct from the use of dreams in psychotherapy. It is true that dreams may come from the hand of God; but scripturally they appear to come at His bidding, not ours. And, when they come from God they are revelation events, not normal dreams. And nowhere in the Bible are we told to attempt to manipulate dreams for our own purposes or even our own self-insight. Granted, we are never told not to, but whether we do dream work or not should be based on valid reasons for pursuing the practice.

Dreams in church history. We do not believe the appeal to practices in church history are relevant because we think that the practices of dream exploration in church history are more questionable than convincing. No one denies that dream exploration can be both innocent and interesting, but in many ways it is simply unimportant. If God wishes to speak to us in a dream, He will, without our help. But both biblical data and church history reveal that this is relatively rare. If “problem” dreams are thrusting themselves upon us, then we may wish to pray for guidance as to the reason, or to see a qualified Christian counselor who respects biblical authority and whose practice is not contaminated by the anti-Christian premises of secular psychotherapy.[2] If dream work or dream therapy were truly important to our spiritual wellbeing, we would expect God to have commanded it in Scripture.

Christian dream therapy. Christian psychotherapy and dream work reveal a sometimes appalling lack of discernment when it comes to secular and even New Age thinking Christians who are interested in exploring their dreams need to realize that even secular dream work can be tied to psychic exploration, and that it can become a means to spiritistic intrusion or contact. New Age dream work is almost exclusively the psychic use of dreams, which is more common than most assume, as we will later illustrate. We should also remember that merely because a practice is labeled Christian, as in “Christian” dream work, does not mean that it is either biblically wholesome, safe, or genuinely Christian A large number of churches, groups, and individuals call themselves “Christian,” yet reject clear biblical teachings and standards, and they may even experiment with the psychic realm.

Some Christians who are involved in dream workshops perhaps do not realize that the sources of interpretation derive from the dream work materials of liberal theologians, secular psychologists, and even spiritists. Such information taints the dream program with unbiblical premises, philosophies, or practices. Some evangelicals are influenced by Carl Jung, whose extensive personal involvement in the occult[3] colors many of his theories[4] and makes such dream work suspect from the start.[5]

In general, we think that the importance of dreams is often exaggerated and that time spent in exploring them is often more profitably spent elsewhere. Throughout human history, most people have lived well without attending local dream workshops or having their dreams analyzed in therapy.

Six Concerns

Below we list six general concerns with so-called “Christian” dream work.

1. Christian dream work often overemphasizes the value of dreams in proportion to their significance. If the legitimacy of dream analysis is unsubstantiated, of what value is the therapy? And some Christian dream work gives dreams a spiritual task they carry only rarely. That is, it makes a rare event (God communicating through dreams) a normal or universal event (dreams per se are communications from God).

This belief that God communicates to us regularly, directly, and personally by dreams makes dreams become normal vehicles for supernatural activity (allegedly divine communication), rather than normal byproducts of consciousness that most are. One unfortunate result of this belief is when dreams become divinatory or vehicles for occult revelations. They can supposedly warn of future events, bring spiritual enlightenment, assist physical and mental healing, function as an adjunct to inner work, or guide in making daily decisions. In this role, they can become an actual replacement for the guidance of the Bible. Because they can allegedly function as a form of divine revelation, some Christian dream promoters even advocate dreams as a new means for interpreting Scripture.[6]

2. Christian dream work manuals may endorse communication with “dream figures” or psychic exploration through dreams, both of which can lead to outright spiritism.[7]

3. There are a host of problems inherent to the nature of dreams and Christian dream work. We already mentioned the seemingly unresolvable problem of how one accurately interprets dreams. Furthermore, when placed into a secular or New Age context, dreams often become a means to justify personal New Age beliefs and lifestyle. There is also the problem of unjustified suppositions; for example, that dreams are incomplete without dream work, that dream work fosters personal holiness, that dreams deepen our relationship with God.

4. Christian dream work may assume that dreams per se can be the means toward a relationship with God apart from Jesus Christ. In this regard they obviously assume too much: that everyone merely by virtue of dream work can establish a personal relationship with God, irrespective of their faith in Christ. The premise here is that a preexisting relationship of human and divine consciousness is already present, and that dreams merely amplify, expand, or otherwise help sanctify that already-existing relationship.[8] Such a premise, however, leads to false assumptions about the nature of our relationship with God apart from regeneration (Eph. 2:1-3), and about salvation (John 3:16, 36; Eph. 2:4-10), and true spirituality (John 17:3).

5. Christian dream work may allege the relationship of dreams to “divine energies,” which are defined far too loosely and may in fact be occult energies. People may therefore fall prey to occult practices under the disguise of “divine” activity. For example, dream work “can take us on a spiritual journey and put us directly in touch with the energies of God.”[9] However, how do we know that these are really the energies of God?

6. In Christian dream work, both secular and so-called Jungian-Christian ideas are too often accepted without critique on the part of those who employ them. One only need read the reviews of Jungian texts in Christian psychology periodicals to see this. Indeed, a number of periodicals attempting the integration of secular psychology and Christian theology have carried positive articles on Jungian interpretation of dreams and modern dream work.[10]

Some of the major Jungian dream work positions within the church include : Morton Kelsey’s God, Dreams and Revelations;[11] John Sanford’s Dreams and Healing,[12] and Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language;[13] Savary, Berne and Williams’ Dreams and Spiritual Growth: A Christian Approach to Dreamwork.[14] All these have received positive reviews in Christian psychology publications. But consider what these different authors believe and teach.

Morton Kelsey is an Episcopal priest and Jungian analyst who supports various occult practices, accepts the “Christian” parapsychologists’ premise that psychic abilities are gifts from God, and views Jesus and His disciples as shamans.[15] He writes:

Jesus was a man of power. He was greater than all shamans. (A shaman is one in whom the power of God is concentrated and can thus flow out to others.) My students begin to see the role Jesus was fulfilling when they read Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism and Carlos Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan….

Jesus not only used these powers himself, but he passed the same powers of superhuman knowledge, healing, and exorcism on to his followers…. Jesus did not come just to win some kind of spiritual victory in heaven. He came to endow his followers with a new power that would enable them to spread the gospel effectively by using capacities that are out of the ordinary. This is the same kind of psi [psychic] power Jesus himself had….

It appears that almost all Christians who were true disciples were something like shamans in the style of their master, sharing various gifts of power.[16]

Here, Kelsey has confused the spiritistic, occult power of the shaman with the power of God, again reflecting the fundamental confusion among “Christian” parapsychologists who wrongly maintain that biblical miracles are equivalent to miracles found in the world of mediumism, spiritism, the occult, and Eastern religion.[17]

John A. Sanford is the son of controversial Christian author Agnes Sanford.[18] John Sanford is a Jungian therapist who promotes such Jungian methods as the potentially dangerous practice of active imagination.[19] Again, given Jung’s endorsement of occultism[20] and the many ways in which his theories support occult philosophy and practice,[21] one has to be concerned about the uncritical acceptance of his methods.[22]

Sanford also endorses shamanism. He thinks that its motifs were common among the Old Testament prophets, that Jesus was a shaman, and that the practice offers a legitimate form of spiritual healing:

Biblical scholars are skeptical of the historicity of most of the Book of Daniel, but this story is typically shamanic, and illustrates the shamanistic capacity to enter into special states of consciousness….

A study of shamanism gives us information about the personality of the healer….

The Old Testament prophets were shamanistic in character…. Jesus was distinctly shamanistic. He, too, talked with his spirits…. Like the shamans, Jesus healed the sick and was on familiar terms with the denizens of the spiritual world….[23]

That shamanism is a legitimate healing method, Sanford writes:

But perhaps most important of all is the fact that many people today have a shamanistic type of calling. Certain people who fall ill in our time, as well as in times past, are being called to a special life of consciousness and spiritual development, and may even be summoned via their illness to function as healers….

In our day, we speak of the unconscious rather than of the spirit world, but it is the same reality that lies behind both shamanism and contemporary healing of the psyche. To have a direct experience with the unconscious is to begin to step into a shamanistic type of consciousness. Just as the shaman possessed a firsthand knowledge of his celestial world, so today some people are called upon to explore the geography of the inner world of the unconscious.

Today’s healer,… will find much in the shamanic tradition that will throw light upon his development and function.[24]

Despite Sanford’s views, we have shown in our discussion of shamanism that this practice is always a demonic activity, never a divine one.

Another influential work is called Dreams and Spiritual Growth, whose authors are a Catholic theologian, a clinical psychologist, and the founder of the Jungian-Senoi Institute and author of the Jungian-Senoi Dreamwork Manual. “Senoi dream work is increasingly popular in secular as well as some Christian dream work, but, as we shall see, it is a dream work method common to a pagan shamanistic tribe and used for occult purposes, including spirit contact.

All in all, Jung’s influence within liberal and even within some conservative Christian theology is significant; however, few, if any, are making serious attempts to sift the issues involved biblically.[25] In Inner Healing, Pastor Don Matzat has cited many concerns about Christian therapists who use Jungian methods, and we refer the reader to his text for details.[26]

When Jung psychologizes and normalizes occult theories and internalizes spiritistic phenomena, how can the therapists who trust his theories sift the normal functions of human consciousness from spiritual deception, where spirits deliberately seek to mask their own activities under psychological constructs? How does the therapist who endorses lively inner conversations with one’s alleged “archetypes” or “dream figures” know that their patient is not really conversing with a spirit guide, who is using the idea of archetypes or dream figures to enter a person’s life? The Jungian therapists we have talked with, such as Karen Hamaker-Zondag, a European Jungian therapist specializing in astrology, confess they cannot always, or ultimately, distinguish archetypes from spirit guides. How then does a Christian therapist? And are Christian therapists who use Jung’s technique of active imagination familiar with the attendant dangers of the process that even lifelong Jungian therapists warn about?[27]

To the degree that such cautionary sifting is neglected, Christian promoters of Jungian dream work and related methods may be responsible not only for encouraging spiritual confusion, but for potentially opening the doors to occultism in the lives of believers. Regardless of the label “Christian,” if biblical authority is rejected and biblical concerns discarded, a variety of pagan influences can easily creep into dream work, with the attendant spiritual consequences we will now discuss.


  1. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts on Self-Esteem, Psychology and the Recovery Movement (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995); Thomas Szasz, The Myth of Psychotherapy (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1978); Martin L. Gross, The Psychological Society: A Critical Analysis of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis and the Psychological Revolution (NY: Random House, 1978). Among the critiques of modern psychology showing problems in its theoretical base, effectiveness, and its potential dangers are: Martin L. Gross, The Psychological Society (Random House), Paul Vitz, Psychology As Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship (Eerdmans), William Kurt Kilpatrick, Psychological Seduction: The Failure of Modern Psychology (Nelson), Thomas Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness (Doubleday) and Ideology and Insanity (Anchor), E. Fuller Torrey, The Mind Game: Witch Doctors and Psychiatrists (Emerson Hall), Morris N. Eagle, Recent Developments in Psychoanalysis: A Critical Evaluation (McGraw Hill), Richard W. Ollheim, Philosophers on Freud: New Evaluations (Jason Aronson), R. M. Jurjevich, The Hoax of Freudism (Dorrance & Co.), Dorothy Tennov, Psychotherapy: The Hazardous Cure (Abelard-Schuman), Mark Cosgrove, Psychology Gone Awry (Zondervan), Garth Wood, The Myth of Neuroses: Overcoming the Illness Excuse (Harper & Row), and Bernie Zilbergeld, The Shrinking of America: Myths of Psychological Change (Little, Brown). These are only a few of the scores of texts that are critical of modern psychotherapy—in addition to literally hundreds of articles.
  2. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts On Self-Esteem, Psychology and the Recovery Movement, eBook.
  3. Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (NY: Vintage/Random House, 1965), pp. 170-223.
  4. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts on False Teaching in the Church, eBook.
  5. See “Has Carl Jung’s Occult Psychology Infiltrated the Church and What Are Some of the Consequences,” ATRI News Magazine, Sept. 1995.
  6. Louis M. Savary, Patricia H. Berne, Strephon Kaplan Williams, Dreams and Spiritual Growth: A Christian Approach to Dreamwork (NY: Paulist Press, 1984), pp. 6-7,220-22.
  7. Ibid., pp. 41-63, 206-18.
  8. Ibid., pp. 4-8, 13-34.
  9. Ibid., p. 9.
  10. e.g., Reviews, Journals of Psychology and Theology (JPT), vol. 12, no. 3, 1984, pp. 59-60; see JPT, vol. 13, no. 3 (Fall 1985), [and Fall and Spring, 1983], Fall 1974; cf. Jeffrey Soboson, “Kierkegaard and Jung on the Self,” JPT, vol. 3, no. 1, Winter 1975; Jane Kopas, “Jung and Assagioli in Religious Perspectives,” JPT, vol. 9, no. 3, Fall 1981; Reviews, Journal of Psychology and Christianity, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 95,106; Ibid., vol. 3, no. 2, p. 92.
  11. Morton Kelsey, God Dreams and Revelation: A Christian Interpretation of Dreams (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing, 1974).
  12. John A. Sanford, Dreams and Healing: A Succinct and Lively Interpretation of Dreams (NY: Paulist Press, 1978).
  13. John A. Sanford, Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language (NY: J.B. Lippincott, 1968).
  14. Louis M. Savary, Patricia H. Berne, Strephon Kaplan Williams, Dreams and Spiritual Growth: A Christian Approach to Dreamwork (NY: Paulist Press, 1984).
  15. Morton T. Kelsey, The Christian and the Supernatural (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1976), pp. 16-17, 69, 95.
  16. Ibid., pp. 92-95.
  17. Clifford Wilson, John Weldon, Psychic Forces and Occult Shock (Chattanooga, TN: Global Publishers, 1987), pp. 391-453.
  18. See John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts on False Teaching in the Church, eBook, for documentation of some of her unbiblical views and practices.
  19. John A. Sanford, Healing and Wholeness (NY: Paulist, 1977), p. 140.
  20. Jung, Memories, pp. 170-222.
  21. Ankerberg and Weldon, The Facts on False Teaching in the Church, ebook.
  22. “Has Carl Jung’s Occult Psychology Infiltrated the Church and What Are Some of the Consequences,” ATRI News Magazine, Sept. 1995.
  23. Sanford, Healing and Wholeness, p. 75.
  24. Ibid., pp. 75, 80-81.
  25. John A. Walsh, “The Dream of Joseph: A Jungian Interpretation,” Journal of Psychology & Theology, Volume 11, Number 1, 1983, pp. 20-27; David Brenner, ed., Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985, articles on Dream Therapy and Jungian Analysis), pp. 329-32,614-618.
  26. Don Matzat, Inner Healing: Deliverance or Deception (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1987), pp. 61-75; see also “Has Carl Jung’s Occult Psychology Infiltrated the Church and What Are Some of the Consequences,” ATRI News Magazine, Sept. 1995.
  27. Barbara Hannah, Encounters with the Soul: Active Imagination as Developed by C. G. Jung (Santa Monica, CA: Sigo Press, 1981), pp. 3-25

Leave a Comment