The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience


Simeon Zahl, The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)


Zahl, Simeon. The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020

Publication life cycle / General notes

In this book, Zahl interacts significantly with T. F. Torrance. Look for a forthcoming review in Participatio by Jerome Van Kuiken.


In The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience, Simeon Zahl presents a fresh vision for Christian theology that foregrounds the relationship between theological ideas and the experiences of Christians. He argues that theology is always operating in a vibrant landscape of feeling and desiring, and shows that contemporary theology has often operated in problematic isolation from these experiential dynamics. He then argues that a theologically serious doctrine of the Holy Spirit not only authorizes but requires attention to Christian experience. 

Against this background, Zahl outlines a new methodological approach to Christian theology that attends to the emotional and experiential power of theological ideas. This methodology draws on recent interdisciplinary work on affect and emotion, which has shown that affects are powerful motivating realities that saturate all dimensions of human thinking and acting. In the process, Zahl also explains why contemporary theology has often been ambivalent about subjective experience, and demonstrates that current discourse about God's activity in the world is often artificially abstracted from experience and embodiment.

At the heart of the book, Zahl proposes a new account of the theology of grace from this experiential and pneumatological perspective. Focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation and sanctification, he retrieves insights from Augustine, Luther, and Philip Melanchthon to present an affective and Augustinian vision of salvation as a pedagogy of desire. In articulating this vision, Zahl engages critically with recent emphasis on participation and theosis in Christian soteriology, and charts a new path forward for Protestant theology in a landscape hitherto dominated by the theological visions of Barth and Aquinas.