We’ve all had strange dreams from time to time. Sometimes the details are so confused and convoluted you can scarcely believe your mind concocted them in the first place. And no matter how vivid the dream appeared, you likely wouldn’t base something as insignificant as your lunch order—much less your life—on those bizarre mental images. Sadly, the same is not true for many professing believers in the church today.
James Ryle says he awoke from a strange dream one night and heard the Lord tell him, “I am about to do a strange, new thing in My church. It will be like a man bringing a hippopotamus into his garden. Think about that.”  James Ryle, Hippo in the Garden (Lake Mary, FA: Creation House, 1993), 259.
Ryle did think about it and concluded God was telling him He was going to “[return] the power of His prophetic word by His Holy Spirit into churches that (presumptuously) no longer have any place for it.”  Hippo in the Garden, 261. Ryle adds this: “Not only is the hippo in the garden the unusual thing God will do prophetically within His church, but it also heralds His release of a prophetic voice into the world through His church, bringing in a great last-days harvest.” Ryle quotes Acts 2:17–21 and then says, “A vast prophetic movement inspired by the Holy Spirit within the church in the midst of the world resulting in an evangelistic ingathering—that is the ‘hippo in the garden.’”  Hippo in the Garden, 262.
In other words, Ryle says the spirit of prophecy will come like a lumbering beast upon the whole church, making revelatory prophecy commonplace and ushering in a new wave of revival. When this happens it will seem as unlikely and out of place—and disruptive—as a man taking a hippo for a walk in a neatly manicured garden. Ryle is convinced God gave him this prophecy.
Ryle, pastor of Boulder Valley Vineyard Fellowship in Boulder, Colorado, is no stranger to dreams and visions [Ryle passed away in 2015, Ed.]. A few years ago Ryle said the Lord revealed to him in a dream the secret of the Beatles’ success: they received a special anointing from God. According to Ryle, God told him, “they were gifted by My hand; and it was I who anointed them, for I had a purpose, and the purpose was to usher in the Charismatic renewal with musical revival around the world.”
Unfortunately, John, Paul, George, and Ringo squandered the sacred anointing on fame and riches. “The four lads … went AWOL and did not serve in My army”—Ryle says he heard God say. “They served their own purposes and gave the gift to the other side.” According to Ryle, the Lord’s plan was thwarted, so He withdrew the anointing in 1970. Ryle says God has told him He is about to release that same anointing again. This time He plans to use Christian musicians. James Ryle, “Sons of Thunder,” (Longmont, CO: Boulder Valley Vineyard tape ministry), preached 1 July 1990. Thousands listen breathlessly as Ryle recounts his prophetic message.
Ryle regularly has dreams, sees visions, and hears messages he insists come from God. “I dreamed I was literally inside the Lord,” he writes of one such incident. “I had the ability to look through His eyes and to see what He was seeing—without being seen.”  Hippo in the Garden, 128. Ryle recounts these dreams and visions with remarkably detailed interpretations. He is thoroughly convinced they all contain prophetic truth from the Lord.
Ryle does not claim to be unique. He believes all Christians who will listen can hear the voice of God through dreams, visions, and personal prophecies. “God will speak to us as He spoke to Jesus,” he declares.  Hippo in the Garden, 36. “We are not merely to look back and sigh at how wonderful it must have been to hear God’s voice and be led by His Spirit. No! God speaks to us today.”  Hippo in the Garden, 38. Elsewhere he writes, “God is a supernatural being and surely speaks through supernatural means. I refer to the audible voice of God, divine manifestations of His presence, angelic encounters and similar phenomena.”  Hippo in the Garden, 190. According to Ryle, all those phenomena are supposed to be happening today—and will happen to anyone who is receptive enough.
Ryle believes the Bible is the infallible record of God’s past speaking, but he doesn’t seem to believe the Bible alone is a sufficient word from God for today. He suggests that believers who do not listen for fresh words from God daily are missing an important source of spiritual sustenance:
Jesus taught us to pray that our Father would give us each day our daily bread. Since He declared that man should not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God, doesn’t this imply that He wants us to hear His voice every day of our lives? I think so.  Hippo in the Garden, 39.
Ryle even offers some hermeneutical principles for dream interpretation: “Be committed to researching the symbols and sayings of the revelations given. . . . Don’t ever force an interpretation, trying to make it fit a predetermined opinion or desire,” and so on.  Hippo in the Garden, 149-150. Good advice for people studying Scripture. But are we supposed to exegete our dreams that way?
Ryle says yes. He tells his readers, “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that God still speaks audibly to His people today. My prayer is that you will hear His voice for yourself; that will be proof enough.”  Hippo in the Garden, 199. Much of his book is filled with instructions for people who want to hear the voice of God.
James Ryle is illustrative of a growing number of pastors and church leaders who claim they receive truth directly from God. Ryle is perceived by many as something of an expert in this type of “revelation.” His teaching is peppered with “truths” drawn not from the Scriptures but from his own dreams and visions. The Beatles’ anointing, the hippo in the garden, a pig on a billboard, a rhino in a field, visions of Popeye and Olive Oyl, an angel with a vat of acid, dreams about the Colorado Buffalo football team’s success—these are the “revelations” about which Ryle writes and preaches. “The Word of God” is much broader to him than Scripture, encompassing his own dreams, visions, words of prophecy, and “personal revelations”—Scripture verses taken out of context and applied like fortune-cookie messages.  Hippo in the Garden, 77. “The Bible is not an end in itself,” he claims; “rather, it is the God-given means to an end.”  Hippo in the Garden, 74.
James Ryle represents a growing movement that is propagating extrabiblical revelations from God as the key to renewal in the church. Thousands of churches worldwide have embraced this new movement. People everywhere are listening for—and believe they can hear—the voice of God.
Whether There Be Prophecies, They Shall Fail
It is not at all hard to find examples from church history of groups and individuals who believed God was speaking directly to them apart from Scripture. But surely in two thousand years of history the quest for this kind of personal prophecy has never been as widespread and as pervasive as it is today.
Church history also reveals that since the canon of Scripture was closed, virtually every “prophet” who ever spoke a “thus saith the Lord” has been proved wrong, recanted, or gone off track doctrinally. And since the apostolic era, every movement that has depended heavily on extrabiblical prophecy has ultimately digressed from the true faith, usually falling into serious corruption or heresy.
This is precisely why the sufficiency of Scripture—sola Scriptura—is such a crucial doctrine. If the written Word of God truly is able to give us all the wisdom we need for complete salvation, and if it is able to make us adequate, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15–17)—then is there really any necessity for additional “prophecies” in the life of the believer? Does God need to say more to us than He has already said? This is a question advocates of modern prophetic revelation would do well to ponder carefully.
What More Can He Say Than to You He Hath Said?
It seems particularly unfortunate that there would be such an affinity for subjective “revelations” in an era when the average “born-again Christian” is so ignorant of the objective revelation God has given us in the Bible. When knowledge of Scripture is at such an ebb, this is the worst possible time for believers to be seeking divine truth in dreams, visions, and subjective impressions.
The quest for additional revelation from God actually denigrates the sufficiency of “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). It implies that God hasn’t said enough in the Scriptures. It assumes that we need more truth from God than what we find in His written Word. But as we have repeatedly seen, the Bible itself claims absolute sufficiency to equip us for every good work. If we really embrace that truth, how can we be seeking the voice of God in subjective experiences?
In short, I reject modern revelatory prophecy because the New Testament canon is closed and Scripture is sufficient. Elsewhere I have delved into some of the biblical and theological arguments against continuing revelation. In this context my concerns have to do with reckless faith and the dearth of biblical discernment. Here I am primarily concerned with the extreme subjectivity that is introduced into doctrine and daily life when Christians open the door to private messages from God.
So in the days ahead, rather than focusing on theological and biblical reasons for believing that prophecy has ceased, I want to highlight some of the dangers we face when we treat any kind of subjective impression as if it were a message from God. This is a vital issue for the church today, and a key component of true discernment.
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