Review of Herman Riffel’s “Dream Interpretation” – John Boruff

riffelIn his book Dream Language, James Goll said that Herman Riffel (pronounced Riff-ull) is “one of the ‘patriarchs’ of modern-day visionary revelation” (p. 170). He started writing books on the voice of God, dreams, and visions before the prophetic movement started in Kansas City with Mike Bickle. Riffel’s bibliography: Voice of God: The Significance of Dreams, Visions, Revelations (1978); Your Dreams: God’s Neglected Gift (1981); Learning to Hear God’s Voice (1986); Dreams: Wisdom Within (1990); Dream Interpretation: A Biblical Understanding (1993); Dreams: Giants and Geniuses in the Making (1996); and also a 22 1/2 hour video series called Christian Dream Interpretation. He had a strong influence on how Mark Virkler (How to Hear God’s Voice), Jim Goll (The Seer), and Ira Milligan (Understanding the Dreams You Dream) understood dream interpretation. He also introduced the idea of dream journaling into the charismatic movement. But before you jump at the opportunity to dive into his teachings, and accept them all wholeheartedly at face value, you might want to read the rest of this article.

In his book Dream Interpretation: A Biblical Understanding, Riffel does a great job at surveying Biblical dreams and bringing them out in the open for study and examination. He does this especially in the first five chapters of the book (see Acts 16:9; Num. 12:6-8; Gen. 31:24; Judges 7:13-15; Dan. 2-4; Joel 2:28 & Acts 2:17; Zech. 10:2; Jer. 23:25, 26, 32; Jer. 14:14; Deut. 13:1-3; Gen. 40:9-17; Job 33:13-22; Dan. 7:1; Gen. 28:13-15). However, the meat of the book is spent on modern dreams that people have shared with him; and with him offering his dream interpretations. I think this is where he gets into theological trouble the most. In chs. 19 on “Visions” and 20 on “Lessons from Dreams of National Importance” he examines a few other dream and vision Scriptures (see Dan. 7-8; 2 Kings 6:15-17; Gen. 15:12-14; 41:17-24; Dan. 10). After reading through Riffel, seeing this book as a representative sample of his theology of dreams, I came to the conclusion, that Ira Milligan (Understanding the Dreams You Dream, vols. 1 and 2) and John Paul Jackson (The Biblical Model of Dream Interpretation) are likely safer, more reliable guides, because they are more committed to evangelicalism than Riffel was.

I found it interesting that Riffel mentioned that secular leaders and scientists have at times received ideas for inventions through dreams (Einstein’s theory of relativity). He also brought to my notice that some church fathers had written about dreams: Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Synesius (p. 7). Let me also add Aquinas, The Golden Legend, The Confession of St. Patrick, and The Supernatural Occurrences of John Wesley. But Riffel was a Morton Kelsey fan: he shares his information about the church fathers from Kelsey’s God, Dreams, and Revelation, which is all well and good: until you find out that Kelsey was a universalist. In Kelsey’s The Other Side of Silence, he supports the idea of mixing yoga and Zen with Christian meditation! Riffel is confusing; he has enough Biblical discernment to judge a Buddhist dream that speaks against missionaries (p. 10), but then later on will say something like this: “When Saddam Hussein dreamed that Mohammed told him that his guns were pointing the wrong way, we needed not be alarmed. God knew that at that time Saddam would listen to Mohammed rather than Jesus, so He framed the message accordingly” (p. 165). So its clear that Riffel is a type of Christian universalist: he’s likely the type of person that believes Jesus is the only way to Heaven, but that Jesus may also appear in other forms, such as Mohammed or Buddha. And that any dream from the pagan world is okay, so long as it doesn’t speak against Jesus; but if a dream incorporates Jesus in a pluralistic or universalist way, then its from God. (Of course, such a way of interpreting dreams is totally liberal, New Agey, and heretical, and I would reject that as totally outside of evangelical dream interpretation. But it seems Riffel is a mainline liberal dream interpreter rather than an evangelical one.)

Another disturbing aspect of Riffel’s way of interpretation: he borrows from psychology a lot. He’s very EGO-centric or self-centered in the way he understands dreams, much like Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung (p. 90). He explains his acceptance of secular psychology ideas in terms of accepting a good Samaritan (p. 106). 95% of all dreams are about yourself, according to him; even when you dream about other people. These people, or animals, etc are all just different shades of your personality trying to find expression in your life. He offers no Scripture to support this idea, but its a very major way that he interprets dreams. Rather than seeing sexual dreams as attacks from demons, like the incubus and succubus, as is traditionally understood, he just sees these as aspects of yourself, and not necessarily as sinful, demonic forces (pp. 124-125).

He also has a feminist theology influence. He feminizes God (p. 119). He also speaks of men getting in touch with their “feminine” side and vice versa for women (p. 132). Such ideas are LGBT friendly and would create gender identity confusion.

He basically has no place for demons or evil spirits invading our dreams: almost everything in dreams is from yourself and about yourself; and as far as words of knowledge about other people, or discerning spirits or revelations about things in their hearts…forget it. A dream of a leprechaun is not interpreted as a demon of greed, but as a masculine aspect of the female dreamer! (pp. 62-63). When you dream about other people, its just about you again. He thinks that to dream about secrets in other people’s hearts, like in 1 Cor. 14, is to go against “judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matt. 7:1). The psychology idea of “projection” is what he believes happens when people dream of others and think God is revealing secrets. So, dreams are all about SELF-revelation: you can’t even get revelation about demons or other human beings around you through dreams, according to Riffel’s psychologized view of dreams. I am looking forward to John Paul Jackson’s The Biblical Model of Dream Interpretation: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Soulish Methodology–this subtitle seems to strike right at the core of Riffel’s ego-methodology.

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About John Boruff

John Boruff is a Philosophy and Religion graduate from UNC Pembroke. In his free time, he blogs about the Christian life; and has special interests in evangelism and spiritual gifts. He identifies himself as a Reformed Arminian Pentecostal. He’s also a husband and dad. John loves street preaching. His influences are Leonard Ravenhill, David Wilkerson, John Wesley, Charles Finney, etc. John is always in the process of writing; and is posting free e-books on this site for cultivating a deeper Christian life. Among them are his 'How to Experience God' and 'The Gospel of Jesus Christ.' He is currently working on the lives of great prophets in church history—from Catholic saints to Protestant reformers and revivalists. He is also working on a Biblical theology of poverty alleviation.
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