“Piercing The Veil” And African Dreams And Visions

“Piercing The Veil” And African Dreams And Visions

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PNEUMA 40 (2018) 345–365

“Piercing the Veil” and African Dreams and Visions In Quest of the Pneumatological Imagination

Anna Marie Droll

Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California annadroll@fuller.edu


Pentecostal scholarship is conscientiously examining gaps in Western theology in regard to pneumatology. This article describes the phenomena of pentecostal dreams and visions (D/Vs) in the African context as significant to that dialogue, pointing to their spiritual value in many African churches. I suggest that they can be seen as exis- tential samples of the pneumatological imagination as put forth by Amos Yong and also as described by Nimi Wariboko. I use Yong’s theology to argue that the pneumato- logical imagination in African contexts readdresses the experience of D/Vs, which are normative phenomena in indigenous religions, through the hermeneutical interplay of Spirit-Word-community. I also suggest that the experience of D/Vs satisfies Wariboko’s definition of grace, that they are subject to his politics of spiritual warfare, and that their interpretation and application exemplify the transformation of “ontological and epistemological coordinates of existence” by “piercing the veil” of phenomenality for the experience of the noumenal.


Pentecostalism – pneumatology – dreams – visions – Africa

1 Introduction

Pentecostals live in a world where God can be relied on to communicate, even when it messes up a good night’s sleep …1

Paul Alexander,Signs and Wonders

1 Paul Alexander, Signs and Wonders: Why Pentecostalism is the World’s Fastest Growing Faith

(San Francisco,CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 130.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/15700747-04003003




In the vision I saw a piece of white paper floating down. I went to pick it up and read what was written on it: “Jesus for addicts.”

Magesté Merope, Lomé, Togo

The subject of dreams and visions in Africa should be analyzed for how Spirit emphasis in their reception and interpretation demonstrates a Christianity that is distinctly pneumatological. These phenomena are part of the African experience of affirming that the God of the Bible can make himself and his divine directives known to his people, but beyond this they also hold value for a pastoral and holistic approach in their incorporation into the life of the church. Although Western terrain has been unaccommodating in the past in regard to examining dreams and visions (D/Vs) for their significance in the theological academy, there are new winds that have blown in terms of revitalizing a “thin” and constrictive evangelical theology of the Spirit.2

Therefore, the subject of dreams and visions and their interpretations as lived-out elements of pentecostal spirituality in Africa is timely and can have a broader application as the substance of new theological constructs.3At the out- set, it should be noted that the 77 personal interviews and 137 written surveys I collected in West Africa and Tanzania point to diversity of qualities among the experiences and their interpretations. Yet, I will argue for threads of common- ality that qualify the use of “African” as more than a geographical term.4

Within the scope of this article is a dialogue with two of the most forward- thinkingtheologianstodayinrespecttothepneumatologicalsoundingsof pen- tecostal theology. The discussion will draw from the theologies of Amos Yong and Nimi Wariboko to demonstrate the place that dreams and visions retain as biblical elements of the pneumatological imagination. This essay contends that Amos Yong’s concept of the pneumatological imagination sustains certain aspects of theory and praxis surrounding the experience of D/Vs in African Pentecostalism. This is due to Yong’s trialectic that explains the hermeneutical

2 See Allan H. Anderson in African Reformation: African Initiated Christianity in the 20th Cen-

tury (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2001), 248. “The widespread use of dreams and visions

as a vehicle of revelation in AICs is also a biblical practice, but one regarded of little signif-

icance in western Christianity. The contribution of these African forms of spirituality is of

great importance to the mission of the universal church and its effective proclamation of the


3 I use “pentecostal” to describe spirituality that draws from a biblical emphasis on the work

and presence of the Spirit of Christ. In that sense its use is meant to encompass what Western

scholarship would distinguish from pentecostal and term charismatic.

4 The research pertains to the Dreams andVisions Project at the core of my dissertation writing

for Fuller Theological Seminary in the School of Intercultural Studies.

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process by which the human mind, enlivened by the Spirit, is capable of effec- tively assessing religious experiences. That process of assessment is by means of the interplay of Spirit, Word, and community, and it is showcased in the African engagement with the experience of dreams and visions as elements of continuity between the indigenous religious experience and the pentecostal experience. Secondly, in the African context the pneumatological imagination uses the same trialectic process not only to verify the dream and vision phe- nomena as valid manifestations of the Spirit today, but also to assess their value as elements of congregational benefit and holistic, pastoral care. It can be argued that historically, such theologizing along the lines of D/Vs as intrin- sic to pentecostal spirituality occasioned the emergence of fresh pneumatic movements. This article explains, for example, how the hermeneutical appeal to experiences such as dreams, along with scriptural traditions, undergirded the breakaway from mission churches for those who establishedAICs (African Initiated Churches).5

This article also relies on Nimi Wariboko’s pneumatological imagination to showcase dreams and visions more explicitly within an African pentecostal worldview. He mentions the theological work of assessing the Christianity of Western missions along with discerning the elements of African traditional religion, a process of critique that mirrors my findings regarding the pente- costal interpretation of dreams and visions in the African context. Wariboko’s theology points to the recontextualization of dreams and visions by means of a hermeneutic of spiritual warfare, a hermeneutical lens verified by the recur- ring problem of evil that marks dream and vision accounts out of West Africa. Also, his description of Nigerian pentecostal spirituality enriches the discus- sion of D/Vs as natural elements of Christian pneumatology and as distinctive elements of continuity between traditional African spirituality and pentecostal spirituality.

This article proceeds in three movements. First, it briefly mentions the ideas of three scholars who have contributed to preparing the table for this present dialogue while nevertheless stopping short of delving directly into dreams and visions. The intent is to show the timeliness for engagement with dreams and visions as elements of pneumatology in pentecostal experience. On the heel of those comments, the discussion turns to Yong and Wariboko. The pneumatological imagination is presented as an appropriate metaphor to

5 This rendering of the acronym is used by Allan H. Anderson, and I prefer it to “African Inde-

pendent Churches” or “African Indigenous Churches.” I think it puts due emphasis on the

agency of those who felt Spirit-led in the decision to come out from under the clerical domi-

nation of mission churches. See Anderson, African Reformation, 11.

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use for locating, both theoretically and ontologically, the Spirit in dreams and visions. I explain first how Yong’s foundational pneumatology accommodates dreams and visions universally, and then how his pneumatological imagina- tion describes the hermeneutical process that can be applied to the experience and interpretation of D/Vs in the African context. Next follows the descrip- tion of how Nimi Wariboko’s pneumatological imagination can explain the phenomena of D/Vs as elements of pentecostal spirituality and specifically as distinctive elements of Nigerian Pentecostalism. Lastly, this essay offers exam- ples of certain AICs’ assessment of dreams and visions as valid and valuable pentecostal experience in African contexts.

2 Pneumatological Soundings for Dreams and Visions

That dreams and visions belong to the same genre of experience while still hav- ing distinct characteristics is apparent in Peter’s reference to Joel’s prophecy found in the Book of Acts. It states that when the Spirit is poured out from God, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). Essential to a hermeneutical treatment of the experiences is the indication that they are phe- nomena signifying the pouring out of the Spirit. This will be noted later in the hermeneutical assessment of dreams in a Cameroonian branch of the True Church of God from Nigeria. In their praxis dreams are valued as initiatory for membership in the church community. As an aside, in this essay dreams are described as visions received while asleep.6 As for visions received while awake, these are called “closed visions” when they are received with eyes closed. Visions received while awake with eyes open are referred to as “open visions.”7 The boundaries in regard to the incidence of symbolic language in images vs. literal happenings requiring little to no interpretive process seem blurred, as can be noted in samples of African dream and vision reports.8

6 I draw from Kelly Bulkeley, Big Dreams: The Science of Dreaming and the Origins of Religion

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), E-book, loc. 1410.

7 This is drawn from Joseph Quayesi-Amakye,Prophetism in Ghana Today: A Study on Trends in

Ghanaian Pentecostal Prophetism(Scotts Valley,CA: CreateSpace Publishing, 2013), 13. 8 Dream reports that I have heard from African Pentecostals include instances of dream

imagery, seeing visions, and literal happenings in a spiritual realm. In 2015, a young woman

from Cameroon shared with me her account of traveling each night by means of occult prac-

tices to a place “under the water.” As a former practitioner of the MaamiWata cult, she relayed

fantastic scenarios in which she had conversations with beings in that place, overheard plots

for the demise of the unsuspecting on the earth, and even ate food. Her account includes

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2.1 Jean-Daniel Plüss and Visions

In 1988 Jean-Daniel Plüss published a dissertation that must have made a splash in his day for its deep engagement with pentecostal themes as they relate to religious narratives and their effects within and outside the faith community. Visions and their narratives feature prominently. His claim that the reports of religious experiences “belong in the public forum of interpretation and in the congregation of praise” anticipates the emphases on experience for a full-orbed spirituality and theology that would later arise from American scholars.9

Plüss offers much with which to engage regarding visions, prophecies, and revelation and how to think about and evaluate them. While the topic of spir- itual dreams fits snugly within the purview of his discussion, Plüss does not address or define the dream experience, but rather maintains the terminology of “visions.” While in an appended section he does evaluate Joseph’s life story from the Bible for its narrative qualities and there mentions Joseph’s dreams, the accounts of visionary experiences in the rest of his volume steer clear from reference to dreams.10 Still, his mention of “doxological movement” that flows from interpretations pointing to “God’s faithfulness and love,” his discourse on the discernible value of visions assessed by their effects on initiating “Chris- tian action in view of the other and the self,” and his insight on the collabora- tion between the agency of the Spirit and human mental activity could all be applied to a discussion on dreams as well as visions.11




the memory of being physically beaten there, and she stated that those wounds were manifested in her body upon awakening. As unusual as the stories sound, ethnographic treatment of dreams in many other locations of the world offer similar testimonies of con- tact with personalities in a dream realm, whether deities or spirits of the deceased or of those yet alive on earth. The young woman claimed engagement with real people, leaving the impression that the dream state for her was far from a flat observation of imagery but rather a social context of its own. Similar accounts of the dream state as an experience of the “wandering of the soul” abound.

Jean-Daniel Plüss,Therapeutic and Prophetic Narratives inWorship(Frankfurt:Verlag Peter Lang, 1988), 158. I think of Americans Donald J. Gelpi, Steven J. Land, and Amos Yong, and from the UK, Mark J. Cartledge.

Plüss,Therapeutic and Prophetic Narratives, 211–212. Ambiguity about the sleeping or wak- ing state is evident in two accounts of visions received by a German Pentecostal and a German-born American evangelist. In the first report it reads that after the vision, “Brother Witzke awoke and knew …,” and in the second report of the other subject it states that God awoke him in the night and then he had the vision.

Plüss,Therapeutic and Prophetic Narratives, 209, 226, 250–251.

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2.2 James K.A. Smith: Openness and Enchantment

James K.A. Smith makes assertions that may be applied to thinking aboutD/Vs as part of a Spirit-oriented theology. Two of Smith’s five characteristics of a pentecostal worldview have a bearing on how dreams and visions reflect a vibrant pneumatology. They are a radical openness to God and the concept of an “enchanted theology of creation and culture.”12 The first concept of rad- ical openness to God can speak to the attitude or posture one has toward pneumatic, visionary experiences. The issue speaks directly to the question of whether dream content is always the “day residue” being cognitively processed during sleep or only the unresolved psychological and emotional issues framed in the metaphorical language of dream symbols.What Smith offers is the possi- bility of broadening the discussion onD/Vs to offer more nuance so that there is an expectant openness to the dream life as a site for encounter with the Spirit. The effects of dreams themselves make a theological argument plausible and relevant to the present conversation about dreams among dream researchers.13



James K.A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 11–12.

It is interesting that Carl Jung’s theories of dreaming took into consideration his claim that the psyche possesses unusual capacity for the creative in that “There are things in the psy- che which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life.” Carl Jung, cited in Morton T. Kelsey, God, Dreams, and Revelation: A Christian Interpretation of Dreams, rev. exp. ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1991), 173. Jung was therefore attuned to the relationship between consciousness and unconsciousness and valued the unconscious mind as a source of psychological health. He also engaged with the nature of the religiosity that the dream life often stimulated, and he identified dreams as able to “provide prospec- tive visions of the future,” considering this function an inherent human tendency toward “individuation” and the balance of the conscious and unconscious realities in the individ- ual. For this comment on Jung see Kelly Bulkeley,The Wilderness of Dreams: Exploring the Religious Meanings of Dreams in Modern Western Culture (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994), 43.

I add here the perspective of Warren S. Brown, who makes this statement regarding the limits of the neuroscience of religious experiences: “If interactions with a physical or social world are so critical for the nature of the human mind and religious experiences, then it is coherent to consider our interactions with the Spirit of God as the critical context for emergence of spirituality in embodied persons. Through the neuroscience of religious experiences we can know a bit about ourselves as creatures, but due to the limits of sci- entific investigations, we can only know about a contributing part to a larger whole that is human religious life.” See “The Brain, Religion, and Baseball Revisted,”Fuller Magazine, Issue 5 (Pasadena,CA: Fuller Theological Seminary, 2016), 47.

Aswell,dreamresearcherKellyBulkeleystudiesindepththelinkbetweendreamexpe- riences and religions. He categorizes the mystical dream as demonstration of the capacity of the person to “envision positive interactions with benevolent supernatural beings,” which points to dreams as “a primal wellspring of human religious experience.” See

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The second aspect of Smith’s pentecostal worldview, the enchanted theol- ogy of creation and culture, can be seen as essential to the context of African Pentecostals. Smith writes regarding the Spirit’s enchantment of creation (the Spirit’s presence and activity), but also the “misenchantment” of creation and culture.14 To be sure, this is where the biblical worldview intersects with the African social imaginary in the experience of D/Vs that are populated by a host of beings beyond the familiar terrestrial brand. Kwame Bediako explains the African worldview as that which contradicts the Western mindset that espouses a “modern theology” that sees the transcendent as otherworldly and disconnected from mundane experience. On the contrary, the indigenous cos- mic awareness of a multiplicity of gods, a system in which spiritual power is part and parcel of the interrelationality of beings in the realm of the seen and unseen, marks primal imagination as particularly holistic.15 Bringing the conversation back to Smith’s contribution of enchanted spaces in pentecostal theology, Ogbu Kalu states, “The major contribution of the Pentecostal move- ment is how it addresses the continued realityof the forces expressed in African cultural forms.”16 Smith’s references to openness to God and the enchantment of theology and culture provide handles with which to carry the conversation about D/Vs in the African context seamlessly into the theological field for an enlivened pneumatology.

2.3 Allan H. Anderson: Moya in Africa

Allan Anderson holds a unique place in the conversation about pneumatology and the phenomena of D/Vs in Africa. Born in London but raised in Zimbabwe, Anderson contributesa depth of exposure to severalAfrican cultures and a long concentration on manifestations of the Spirit, ormoya, in African contexts. He is one of the most intuitive scholars on the subject today.17He has been vocal for

14 15

16 17

Kelly Bulkeley, “Sacred Sleep,” in The New Science of Dreaming: Cultural and Theoretical Perspectives, vol. 3, ed. Deirdre Barrett and Patrick McNamara (Westport,CT: Praeger Pub- lishers, 2008), 90.

Smith,Thinking in Tongues, 40–41.

Kwame Bediako, Jesus and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 94–95.

Ogbu Kalu, African Pentecostalism(Oxford: University Press, 2008), 178.

Allan Anderson, Moya: The Holy Spirit in an African Context (Pretoria: University of South Africa, 1991), 16–19. Anderson reports that moya translates to mean life-force or Spirit, a ubiquitous yet personal being in Pedi cosmology. The Pedi are people who reside close to South Africa. Also, Anthony Ephirim-Donkor reports on the understanding of God’s Spirit in Akan cosmology. The Spirit is understood as Sunsum to the Akan of Ghana, and in a similar conceptualization is immaterial and yet “accessible and evident to all … God is actually in the air.” Despite the belief in God, whether as Sunsum or Nyame (the rela-

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many years regarding the deficiency of Western theology for accommodating the actual presence and activity of the Spirit in Africa. He writes, “Rather than occupying ourselves with speculation as to who the Holy Spirit is in academic and rather Western theological terms, we should be concerned to postulate what the Holy Spirit does in interacting with the existential spirit world of the African.”18

In regard to the theme of Spirit agency in African contexts, Anderson’s lat- est volume accentuates Pentecostalism’s confrontation with traditional spiri- tuality in the discerning of Spirit operation. Anderson’s comments about the “dis/continuity” involved in retaining certain spiritual forms that accommo- date content aligned rather with a biblical worldview resonate with the data gathered in the Dreams andVisions Project.19D/Vs remain a highly valued con- duit for divine revelation for those in the case studies, but not indiscriminately. For these men and women, D/Vs are assessed for spiritual value through a hermeneutic grounded in the Bible. At this point, we turn now to the theologies of Yong and Wariboko to discover just how D/Vs exemplify pneumatological imagination.

2.4 Foundational Pneumatology

Yong has developed a trinitarian theology—that is, a pneumatology—that addresses effectively the problem of how to conceive of dreams and visions within the economy of theological reality. His work has also sparked optimism for how the phenomena can be understood as actual samples of live experience with the Spirit. This is due to its grounding in a concept of human knowl- edge that is not divorced from the relationality, rationality, and dynamism of the Spirit, as will be explored ahead. At this outset, a metaphoric connection between Yong’s concept of engagement with the world and an individual’s or a community’s engagement with dreams and visions can be made. This is because of the intrinsic nature of the experiences as situated within the social imaginary and bodily embeddedness of the visionary in his terrestrial and cos- mic surroundings in the waking life. Therefore, two of Yong’s assertions sustain



tionship between Nyame as God all-powerful and Sunsum is not offered in Donkor’s text), there is still the tendency to implore local deities for immediate relief when God is slow in responding. See African Religion Defined: A Systematic Study of Ancestor Worship among the Akan(Lanham,MD: University Press of America, 2010), 8, 26–28.

Anderson, Moya, 24. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu offers a similar observation. In a personal interview on dreams and visions, he shared that many Ghanaians may not express their understanding of the Spirit according to Western categories.

Allan Anderson, Spirit-Filled World: Religious Dis/Continuity in African Pentecostalism (Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 205–206 and 243.

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the experience of D/Vs and their interpretations. First, the key to the commit- ment to engage the world applies here. Yong asserts that there is something of the universal Spirit of God to be found outside ecclesiastical boundaries.20 Also, when the Spirit is engaged by the Word with the community (church), discernment guides the process of exegeting experience with the world. It is this same rational, relational Spirit who guides the exegeting of D/Vs.21

2.5 Pneumatological Imagination

Both Wariboko and Yong venture into a theology of the working of the human mind and the Spirit, the pneumatological imagination. As mentioned, for Yong it rests on his concepts of relationality, rationality, anddunamis, or dynamism, which he sees reflected in Scripture as attributes of reality. The Spirit’s role is one of “mediated immediacy” in this theological construct, which encom- passes the metaphysical and ontological. The terms invite one to consider the possibility of divine intervention into human experience along all three lines through the dream or vision phenomenon.22The relationality of God perfectly portrays the God who may speak through a dream or vision.23 Yong discusses “creative engagement with the transcendent” in terms of “irruption, interrup- tion, and disruption.”24Dreams and visions may fall into any of the categories, even as the Old Testament and the Gospel accounts concur.25 If relationality is experienced, the concept of epistemology becomes naturally syncretized to the idea of embodied knowing. If knowing is an exchange between sentient beings, ontologyentersthe picture,as do the dynamics of flourishing or change. Rationality accompanies relationality and dynamism in the theological sense of the Spirit’s guiding mediation and energy. Yong describes rationality as “the



22 23

24 25

Yong,Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 72.

For Yong on exegeting experience see Amos Yong, Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective(Eugene,OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002), 245–253. Yong,Spirit-Word-Community, 79, 228–229.

I offer that the incarnation of Christ, made possible by the Spirit, itself points to the receptivity of humankind to divine overtures. This resonates with Yong’s assertion that a theology of nature must necessarily be a theology from below. He writes: “If the incarna- tion and the Church are taken seriously, God meets humankind in and through the very stuff of the natural world.” See Yong,Spirit-Word-Community, 298.

Yong,Spirit-Word-Community, 224.

Herman Riffel observes that about one third of the Bible refers to revelations that come through dreams or visions, “adding together all … the stories surrounding them, and all the prophecies that issued out of them.” See Nelson Osamu Hayashida, Dreams in the African Church: The Significance of Dreams and Visions Among Zambian Baptists(Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1999), 14.

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fundamental notion of intelligibility itself” in which the Spirit is the source of rationality and also the mediator and communicator of it. The content of wisdom/rationality is Jesus and the cross, while the message of that wisdom is mediated by the Spirit.26

For those who interpret a D/V as God’s intimate word delivered with divine telos in mind, all three descriptives—relationality, rationality, and dyna- mism—may effectively describe the dream or vision experience as well as the process of its interpretation and its application. In this process, human agency is acquired as a function of Spirit inspiration through the pneumatological imagination, an agency that can be translated into the concept of “shoving power” to accomplish this or that work or assignment.27 Consequently, Yong aptly defines dynamism, or dunamis, as the “power of life and community.”28 This dynamism is effectively manifested in D/Vs, which are interpreted as divine guidance for action and which motivate toward mission. This is the case with Rev. Magesté Merope of Togo, who ministers now to drug addicts, with a man evangelizing in rural Ghana, and with a woman serving at-risk youth on the streets of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. All of them shared with me how the interpretation of their dream or vision motivated them for their work.

2.6 Hermeneutics and Yong’s Spirit-Word-Community

When it comes to thinking about the hermeneutics of dreams and visions in pentecostal theology, it seems we are dealing with the issue on two tiers. There is one hermeneutical engagement involved in the way in which Pentecostals interpret the incidences in general as items of pentecostal spirituality, and then there is the issue of how the visionaries themselves interpret the specific experiences and glean from them to contribute to or challenge their personal spirituality. It has already been established that dreams and visions are bib- lically valid expressions of Spirit engagement and, for many who experience them, existentially valid as nourishing elements of spirituality.

Within Yong’s theological construct the process of interpreting spiritual dreams and visions is cogently situated. Pertaining to the hermeneutical ap- proach to dreams and visions, it helps to refer to how Yong elaborates on the aspect of knowingby the Spirit. He conceptualizes an aspect of discernment—

26 27


Yong,Spirit-Word-Community, 35, 39.

See Margaret S. Archer, Being Human: The Problem of Agency(Cambridge,UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 232. She uses the termshoving powerto refer to emotional engage- ment with priorities and life goals that drive personal purpose.

Yong,Spirit-Word-Community, 27.

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prompted by C.S. Pierce’s theory of signs—that involves the perception and interpretation of signs for a true engagement with the world and the other.This is what Yong expresses as the pneumatological imagination in contact with logos, which in this discussion would be the attributes of the dream or vision as it has been experienced or perceived. The process by which this hermeneutical task is approached with visionary experiences can be traced in Yong’s triadic model of Spirit-Word-community.

As experiences that feed into and are fed from the springs of pneumatolog- ical (pentecostal) spirituality, dreams and visions fit within the interrelations of Yong’s theology and pneumatic schema and are, in fact, situated at the very heart of it. Their location also implies their submission to Yong’s pneumatolog- ical trialectic of Spirit-Word-community. Interestingly, dream researcher Kelly Bulkeley’s location of dreams as phenomena found at the “wellspring” of reli- gious movements would seem to situate them within a schema that might look similar.29 The intent here is to suggest that dreams and visions and their interpretations describe pragmatically the processes of the pneumatological imagination, bringing Yong’s pneumatology out of the abstract and into “expe- rientially legible” terms. Assessing dreams and visions in Petrine terms, when it comes to searching for an example of pneumatological imagination, “this is that.”

2.7 Nimi Wariboko and the Pneumatological Imagination

The first thing that Nimi Wariboko does to assist an understanding of dreams and visions is to discuss the pentecostal knowing that is the function of the pneumatological imagination. Addressing the concept of “epistemological knowing,”Wariboko describes pentecostal epistemology as that which can con- tradict, supplement, or complement the knowing that is bound to the phe- nomenal. Pentecostal knowing concerns itself with ontology so that knowing pertains to the quest for the Real as it truly is, enspirited and incapable of being defined solely by what can be perceived by the senses, that is, by its representations. Pentecostal knowing is concerned with the noumenal real- ity of that which is perceived experientially. Pentecostal spirituality deals with “the struggle between epistemological finitude and fantasy, between desire and impossibility,” achieving by the pneumatological imagination what Western philosophy deems impossible. Wariboko shows how this spirituality deals with emphasis on the ontological, that is, on beings as they truly are, opening the conversation to focus on the noumenal reality and thereby transforming the


Bulkeley, Big Dreams, Loc. 216.

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figure 1

Spirit-Word-community andD/Vs

“epistemological coordinates of existence.”30This spirituality contests the “con- ditions and limits” of “access to knowledge and truth.” To truly know the Real there must be a “piercing” of “the veil of phenomenality.” “It is not enough to be merely saved; one must see into, hear from, and converse with beings in the spiritual realm.”31In brief, Wariboko asserts that “all spirituality is epistemolog- ical” and “driven by experience.”32

Wariboko’s discourse on the “religious art of discernment” in his most recent volume,The Split God (2018), categorizes that which can be discerned into four groups.33 The knowing of the Real is one of those, as described above. Other categories are termed the social, technological, and textual aspects of discern-


31 32


Nimi Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism (New York: University of Rochester Press, 2014), 48.

Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, 42, 45–46.

Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, 254. Also, as Yong points out, the experience guid- ing an exegesis might be nonexperience, and so I would add that nonexperience should be added as a possible current undergirding a given epistemology/spirituality. See Yong, Spirit-Word-Community, 246.

Nimi Wariboko, The Split God: Pentecostalism and Critical Theory (Albany, NY: State Uni- versity of New York Press, 2018), 46.

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“piercing the veil” and african dreams and visions


ment.34While these other aspects employ multifaceted techniques for making pentecostal assessments, discerning the Real pertains to prophetism. This is distinct from reliance on hermeneutics as usually focused on by “the larger Christian world,” according to Wariboko.35

Wariboko’s pneumatological imagination in contact with what lies behind the phenomenal resonates with many of the visionary experiences of those I interviewed. According to my data, accessing the Real coincides with visions and certain types of dreams that were judged as revelatory of the “true state” of things. This ability to pierce the veil to the noumenal is especially driven home by the terms seeing eyes and hearing ears, which Wariboko uses to refer to special perceptual abilities.36 African visionaries report that they have seen beyond the visible, as in the sighting of an angel with a sword en route to res- cue a loved one, and another sighting in which the sky opened up to reveal Christ on the throne weeping.37In regard to “hearing ears,”West African reports relayed to me verify that experiences processed within the pneumatological imagination should not be limited to the visionary. This was driven home by an interview with Rev. Djakouti Mitré, who has led the Assemblies of God in Togo for almost three decades. His turning point of surrender to the call of God to pastor in the church came through an auditory experience when a voice told him, “If you will obey this call, your knees won’t trouble you anymore.” Mitré reported that on the day he entered the Bible school campus he experienced healing in his knees.38 Therefore, as in biblical accounts, the influence of the auditory is significant to piercing the veil in the experience of some.

These experiences affected those who were graced by them, and the result was a knowing that was indeed spiritually charged, demonstrating Wariboko’s synthesis of epistemology and spirituality. As the nineteen-year-old man shared regarding seeing Jesus on the throne, “I knew about him but now I knew he was really alive!” It is to the concept of D/Vs as “graces” that the discussion turns now, since Wariboko not only sets the table for the possibility of dreams and visions within pentecostal spirituality, but also offers a theological basis for them.

34 35 36 37


Wariboko,The Split God, 56.

Wariboko,The Split God, 58.

Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, 47.

The first example was reported to me by a pastor in Cameroon in 2015, and the scene of Jesus on the throne was reported to me this year (2017) by a Ghanaian teenager who fasted for sixteen days prior to the vision.

Personal interview on August 9, 2017 in Lomé, Togo.

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2.8 D/Vs as Grace

Wariboko provides a dissertation on “grace as an event” within his discourse on pentecostal political spirituality. There he dialogues with Paul Tillich’s political theology, drawing from concepts of power in social life and on the role of spir- itual presence within political existence. Tillich refers also to the demonic as the forces that work against human flourishing and that must be resisted since they threaten societal well-being. Referring to Tillich’s framework of ontologi- cal beings in dynamic interplay, Wariboko concludes that it is by “the promise and portentous power of grace” that “people whose power of being is pushed and weighed down by socially imposed suffering do not stay on theground but instead keep bubbling up to the surface.”39 Consequently, political spiritual- ity for the Nigerian Pentecostal is that agency which wages spiritual warfare in this context, working to prevent the diminishing of and promote the increase of well-being. According to Wariboko, then, grace is the dynamic at work in this political strategizing of the Nigerian Pentecostal that can be described as “the evental movement of God, the Holy Spirit, [and which] is full of novelty, possibilities, and potentials.”40 Grace is “God’s act” and can be disruptive, and necessarily so, it follows, if it is to accomplish the transformation of persons into identification with Christ from which the new emerges.41

Many in West Africa attest to their passive role in the reception of D/Vs and audible messages they deem spiritually significant, pointing to the phenomena as gifts, that is, graces. Contrary to the practice of “incubating” for the dream or vision experience as is common in some cultures, these are unsolicited expe- riences and are marked by a sense of wonder by recipients. This holds true for the woman who received a spiritual dream after praying a short prayer before a morning nap, for the man who heard the voice of God calling him back to the ministry while sitting in his car on the roadway after surviving the impact of a devastating accident, and for others who had visions while a professor was teaching or the pastor preaching.

The effects of D/Vs and auditory experiences also point to the concept of grace. The impetus derived from them for committing to a life consecrated to Christ often entails drastic changes (disruption) in priorities. These indi- viduals have invited consternation and even persecution from those around them, a situation that is a common denominator in many of these experi- ences in West Africa. Accompanying that “shoving power” for initial action is the courage to sustain commitment in the midst of the difficulties resulting

39 40 41

Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, 149. Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, 160. Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, 48, 159.

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from their decisions for change.42 Several who reported the impact of D/Vs on their lives described the angst of choosing a commitment to ministry and evangelism over another vocation. In Togo, one woman left an education in law, another a post as a prison guard, and another her business as a boutique owner. For men, the pressure of expectations regarding the role as the finan- cial supporter of the family must also weigh heavily into their reflections on their spiritual experiences. The boldness of those who make a commitment to ministry stands out starkly against the backdrop of the poverty in which they, or many in their own communities, live.That quality is reminiscent of the courage endowed by the Holy Spirit in many biblical scenarios described in both Tes- taments, reinforcing the claims that these experiences are similar to biblical accounts and that this “piercing of the veil” is superintended by the same divine agency.

2.9 D/Vs and Spiritual Warfare

There is a particular aspect of Wariboko’s political theology that speaks to D/Vs being experienced in African contexts. Wariboko states that political spir- ituality involves spiritual warfare that is not carnal but “mighty in God for the pulling down of strongholds.”43 It should be noted that the social imagi- nary of the African Pentecostal includes an array of beings that may especially impact dreams. Dreams and visions are the realm in which numerous influ- ences impinge upon the life of the visionary, including the encroachments of beings such as ancestors (or their imposters, as some African Pentecostals would explain it), deities, witches, and demons. If Nigerian Pentecostalism concerns itself with spiritual combat against all that threatens human flour- ishing, the possibility that the struggle extends into the social realm of dreams and visions should be considered. As well, the spiritual exercises involved in addressing the warfare experienced in dreams and visions—such as prayer, fasting, counseling and deliverance from spirits—should also be included in the discussion on political spirituality. An additional consideration concern- ing warfare and the dream life is the fact that in the lives of certain Africans, as also in other cultures outside of Africa, the dream life is often described as real experiences in another dimension.Therefore, this essay suggests thatWari- boko’s political theology invites attention to dreams and visions as possible



Archer refers to the “shoving power” that is demonstrated in the lives of individuals who move from “agent” to “actor” in their interrelations with their social contexts. See Archer, Being Human, 232.

Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, 158.

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existentiallocationsof spiritual warfare within the theology of a Nigerian pen- tecostal political spirituality.44

3 African Pentecostal Dreams and Visions

African pentecostal dreams and visions manifest the pneumatological imagi- nation in two regards: first, as examples of biblical engagement with pneumatic experiences for a reinterpretation of them as valued elements of pentecostal spirituality, and second, as experiences with value for pastoral care and for use in the congregation for bringing unification and mutual edification. Both aspects showcase dreams and visions as significant to African pentecostal spir- ituality.

As stated, the use of the term Africanto describe a variety of visionary expe- riences in a variety of cultural contexts is not an indication of homogenous findings. The experiences are as unique as are individuals. At the same time, there are shared elements of sociocultural or sociopolitical life that necessar- ily impact the dreamer, his or her attitude toward visionary experiences, and therefore the dream life, with its symbolic language that is commonly associ- ated with the experiences. A basic element that should be noted concerning the genre of African phenomena is the backdrop of a typical worldview that draws from a cosmology that is most often shared with other non-Western peo- ple. It is, in fact, an “enchanted” worldview (see Smith above, p. 350) that is not dissimilar from what is found in biblical narratives.45

Kwame Bediako explores the juxtaposition of Christianity with the African pneumagination. He refers to Harold Turner’s six-feature analysis of indige- nous religions as insightful and “stimulating.” Especially relevant to dreams, visions, and Christian tradition is Bediako’s focus on Turner’s sixth feature where Turner emphasizes that traditional religions are marked by a special affinity with the Christian tradition. Therefore, Bediako writes, “It is the case



Space does not allow me to engage with another of Wariboko’s ideas, namely, the role of “relentless internal redefinition of identity” in church growth in Pentecostalism in Nige- ria. In my forthcoming dissertation I will suggest that dreams and visions have a part in that process of Christian individuation. See Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, 32. Note the biblical mention of thenephilimthat were on the earth in the days of Noah (Gen 6:1–4) and the similarity with the belief in themmortsiaamong the Akan of Ghana. These are gods with the stature of dwarves who are capable of producing human offspring. See Ephirirm-Donkor, African Religion Defined, 10–11. D/Vs as a form of pentecostal discern- ment or knowledge is not the only genre of discernment active among those I contacted.

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that there is only a minimal ‘paradigm-shift’ as we pass from the spiritual universe of primal religions into the spiritual environment of the Christian faith.”46 For this reason, according to Turner, the response to Christianity in non-Western contexts has been of “no surprise.”47

Diviners of the traditional religion of the Temne people of Sierra Leone con- sider the ability to dream as a mark of personal power.48 Indeed, according to Mwesa Mapoma of Zambia, understanding dreams requires understand- ing traditional indigenous religions. He argues: “Westerners have not looked at dreams holistically, but only at their effects on consciousness and uncon- sciousness.” He also notes that after turning to Christianity, many Zambians disconnect from traditional values and religious traditions, including placing value on dreams.49 The work of Nelson Hayashida also documents the effect of missionary devaluation of dreams in Zambia. He states: “African believers did not share their dreams with missionaries, nor for the most part did they treat their dreams with the significance comparable in the traditional religious context.”50 It is important to temper this perspective with that of pastors of the Assemblies of God in Togo who claim that theAGmissionaries brought not only their own stories of experiences of dreams and visions but also the biblical teaching to support them. Nevertheless, Allan Anderson argues that “Spirit- type” churches manifested as a result of the vacuum in the Western missionary Christianity that was imported into Africa and neglected pneumatology.51The distinction to be drawn may be between the influence of mainline Christian denominations and that of pentecostal missions.52

In light of the fact that African pentecostal dreams and visions are products of a reassessment of indigenous past experiences, as well as products impacted by the social imaginary, a model for locating the pneumatological imagination could look like this:

46 47 48

49 50 51 52

Bediako, Jesus and the Gospel in Africa, 89.

Bediako, Jesus and the Gospel in Africa, 88.

Rosalind Shaw, “Dreaming as Accomplishment: Power, the Individual and Temne Div- ination” in Dreaming, Religion and Society in Africa, ed. M.C. Jędrej and Rosalind Shaw (Leiden: Brill, 1992), 40–42.

Hayashida, Dreams in the African Church, 308–309.

Hayashida, Dreams in the African Church, 280.

Allan Anderson, Moya, 25.

Interviews with sixteen Togolese pastors and evangelists regarding dreams and visions were conducted August 7–9, 2017.

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figure 2

The pneumatological imagination

Note that not all spiritual dreams may be found at the intersect of Spir- ited visionary experience and the African social imaginary, which implies the possibility of the agency of another spirit. This resonates with a worldview of the spiritual realm that includes beings of the intrusive and malevolent type able to exert influence through D/Vs. Yet, Africans of pentecostal sensibili- ties acknowledge that though the domain of dreams and visions is accessi- ble to lesser powers or agencies, emphasis on the Holy Spirit overrides fear. D.K. Olukoya of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries states, “There are some videos that the enemy will not slot into your spiritual machine if you have the knowledge of the word … When you are filled with the Holy Ghost: He has positive effect on your dream life.”53 Olukoya exemplifies the pneu- matological imagination. As mentioned above, Yong’s hermeneutical trialectic ensures that discernment guides evaluations of D/Vs by means of the Spirit- Word-community dynamic. What should be noted is that, tracing their role in indigenous spirituality through to their value in Christianity, the significance of D/Vs is apparent. It points to the religious conviction that spurred, for some, the breakaway from mission churches. In short, the contextualization of Christian- ity in Africa involved a recontextualizing of dreams and visions into the Chris- tian experience, which Anderson refers to as a process that reinterpreted cer- tain indigenous practices and resulted in retaining form in Christian contexts but changing the content.54 Dreams and visions take part, then, in the conver- sation regarding the embedding of an authentic, pneumatological Christianity in Africa and point to a predisposition for valuing them among the people.



D.K. Olukoya, Biblical Principles of Dream Interpretation, Warfare Prayer Series 33 (Lagos, Nigeria: Tracts and Publications Group, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries), 13. Anderson, Moya, 39.

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3.1 Enacted Pneumatology andD/Vs inAICChurches

Allan Anderson’s research reveals that the contemplation of dreams and visions is part of the African spirituality enjoyed among African Initiated Churches (AICs), the churches that emerged when Africans left the mission churches.These he also calls “Spirit-churches.”The role that dreams and visions play in these churches emphasizes the interplay of Spirit-Word-community in the evaluation of the phenomena. AIC fellowships have been at the center of controversy within theological camps, yet he argues that in these churches “the enacting of pneumatology is seen in the various multiplied manifesta- tions of the Holy Spirit.”55He mentions visionary experiences in Swazi Zionist churches, dreams in the Xhosa Zionist churches of South Africa, the Tswana independent churches, and also in the spiritual churches of Ghana and Nigeria of West Africa.56 Hayashida concurs and states, “In the AICs, we have become aware of the emphasis on visions in some, especially among the prophets of the prophetic churches.”57 Hayashida found that in the Seraphim Society in Zambia the prophets of the church are expected to have visionary experiences “while the lay people are to rely on dreams.”58In another setting in another part of the continent, candidates for membership in the Cameroonian True Church of God church are told “to expect a significant dream.”59 In an AIC church in Zimbabwe, the Holy Spirit may be detected as present in a person through the individual’s dreams.60

As Mapoma of Zambia points out, dreams and visions are first of all intrin- sic to African religiosity. This is brought out by Bulkeley in regard to the Yansi people of central Africa. In their cultural practice, elders of the people spend the night “out in the open under the stars” and then intently discuss and ana- lyze their dreams the next morning among themselves for portents regarding how the ancestors (deceased elders) are feeling about a certain ceremony.61 Dream discussions are also group events in some African churches. Hayashida describes the value of sharing dreams in the Mutumwa Church in Zambia in the context of a “diagnosis session.” The congregant sits in the midst of the

55 56 57 58 59

60 61

Anderson, Moya, 39.

Anderson, Moya, 38–46.

Hayashida, Dreams in the African Church, 277.

Hayashida, Dreams in the African Church, 283.

Richard T. Curley, “Private Dreams and Public Knowledge in a Camerounian Independent Church,” in Dreaming, Religion and Society in Africa, ed. M.C. Jędrej and Rosalind Shaw (Leiden: Brill, 1992), 139.

Anderson, Moya, 44.

Kelly Bulkeley, Spiritual Dreaming: A Cross-cultural and Historical Journey (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1995), 121.

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church and shares his or her problems, anxieties, and troubling dreams and is then ministered to by the members. These two scenarios are similar in form but different in content, specifically due to content of a biblical orientation.62 The Zambians enact their ritual from the locus of a shared faith in the Bible and an enlivened sense of the presence of the Spirit, that is, from a collective pneumatological imagination.

Attitudes toward dreams and visions inAICcontexts exemplify cultural and ecclesiological support for their value as “therapeutic” for the visionary and unifying for the church. As already noted, Hayashida found that to be true among Zambian AIC leaders who openly encourage communication about dreams. Hayashida remarks that the rituals are edifying to congregants and strengthen “their ability to cope and mature with their dreams.” Also, among Zionist and Apostolic churches of South Africa dream sharing functions as a group-integrating and consolidating spiritual practice within the church ser- vices.63 Walter J. Hollenweger can contribute here since he suggests that pen- tecostal praxis should not be evaluated only by the fact that it is reflected in the New Testament but by its function in the present sociocultural context. “Is its function in this context to heal and integrate people, giving them a fuller humanity and helping them to reach a critical maturity?”64It is also interesting that attention to dreams in the praxis of the church community is reminiscent of clinical approaches to dream therapy in the West where clinicians in some fields point out the therapeutic value of “dream work.” Along these lines, thera- pists use clients’ dream reports to springboard into topics for self-reflection. In fact, research has proven that spiritual interpretations of dreams yielded more spiritual insight and resulted in greater levels of well-being for spiritually ori- ented clients.65 Similarly, the Zionist and Apostolic churches of South Africa value D/Vs as useful for reflection and the well-being of congregants, demon- strating pentecostal practice aligning with a holistic pneumatology.

62 63 64 65

Hayashida, Dreams in the African Church, 287.

Hayashida, Dreams in the African Church, 287.

Walter J. Hollenweger,The Pentecostals(London:SCMPress, 1972), 507.

Patricia T. Spangler and Clara E. Hill, “The Hill-Cognitive Experiential Model,” in Dream Research: Contributions to Clinical Practice, ed. Milton Kramer and Myron Glucksman (New York: Routledge, 2015), 130.

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4 Conclusion

My hope is that this article challenges the pentecostal academy to pursue the articulation of a pneumatology that is authentically representative of actu- alities “on the ground,” one that is in step with the experience of the Spirit. I believe that theologians can learn from the African praxis of attending to dreams and visions as significant experiences within the church, and that in doing so they will articulate more clearly the actual breadth of pentecostal experience, tuning in to the possibility of similar pneumatological manifesta- tions that go unheeded in the West.


I want to acknowledge my PhD advisor Amos Yong for the tremendous help he has been in the writing of this article.

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