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Episode Summary

“For theology to be worth anything, it must traffic in real life, and that real life begins in the heart.” Theologian Simeon Zahl (University of Cambridge) joins Evan Rosa to discuss his book, The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience.

Theologian Simeon Zahl (University of Cambridge) joins Evan Rosa to discuss his book, The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience, reflecting on emotion and affect; the livability of Christian faith; the origins of religious ideas; the data of human desire for theological reflection; the grace of God as the ultimate context for playfulness and freedom; and the role of the Holy Spirit in holding this all together.

About Simeon Zahl

Simeon Zahl is Professor of Christian Theology in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. He is an historical and constructive theologian whose research interests span the period from 1500 to the present. His most recent monograph is The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience, which proposes a new account of the work of the Spirit in salvation through the lens of affect and embodiment. Professor Zahl received his first degree in German History and Literature from Harvard, and his doctorate in Theology from Cambridge. Following his doctorate, he held a post-doc in Cambridge followed by a research fellowship at St John’s College, Oxford. Prior to his return to Cambridge he was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Nottingham.

Show Notes

  • Explore Simeon Zahl’s The Holy Spirit & Christian Experience
  • “For theology to be worth anything, it must traffic in real life, and that real life begins in the heart.”
  • Theology becoming abstracted from day to day life
  • “There is a tendency that we have as human beings, as theologians to do theology that gets abstracted in some way from the concerns of day to day life that we get caught up in our sort of conceptual kind of towers and structures or committed to certain kinds of ideas in ways that get free of the life that Christians actually seem to lead.”
  • “Real life begins in the heart.”
  • God is concerned with the heart.
  • Emotion, desire, and feelings
  • Where does love come in?
  • Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon
  • Philip Melanchthon’s 1521 Loci Communes: Defining human nature through the “affective power”
  • Affect versus rationality at the center of Christian life
  • Credibility, plausibility, and livability of Christianity
  • Authenticity and the disparity between values and beliefs and real lives.
  • Doctrine of Grace
  • Enabling a hopeful honesty
  • “What Christianity says and what it feels need to be closer together.”
  • Evangelical conversion in George Elliot’s novella, Janet’s Repentance
  • “Ideas are often poor ghosts; our sun−filled eyes cannot discern them; they pass athwart us in thin vapour, and cannot make themselves felt. But sometimes they are made flesh; they breathe upon us with warm breath, they touch us with soft responsive hands, they look at us with sad sincere eyes, and speak to us in appealing tones; they are clothed in a living human soul, with all its conflicts, its faith, and its love. Then their presence is a power, then they shake us like a passion, and we are drawn after them with gentle compulsion, as flame is drawn to flame.” (George Eliot)
  • Art’s ability to speak to desire.
  • T.S. Eliot: “Poetry operates at the frontiers of consciousness.”
  • Exhausted by religious language
  • How the aesthetic impacts the acceptance of ideas
  • Durable concepts
  • Where theological doctrine comes from
  • Simeon Zahl: “In what ways are theological doctrines themselves developed from and sourced by the living concerns and experiences of Christians and of human beings more broadly? Doctrines do not develop in a vacuum or fall from the sky, fully formed. Human reasonings, including theological reasonings, are never fully extricable in a given moment from our feelings, our moods, our predispositions, and the personal histories we carry with us. furthermore, as we shall see in the book, doctrines have often come to expression in the history of Christianity, not least through an ongoing engagement with what have been understood to be concrete experiences of God's spirit and history.”
  • “People were worshipping Christ before they understood who he was.”
  • “Speaking about human experience just is speaking about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Desire and emotion as pneumatological experience
  • Sourcing emotional and experiential data for theological reflection
  • Ernst Troelsch: “Every metaphysic must find its test in practical life.”
  • “The half-light of understanding”
  • Nietzsche: “The hereditary sin of the philosopher is a lack of historical sense.”
  • Augustine’s transformation of desire
  • Emotional experience as inadequate tool on its own
  • Noticing our own emotional experiences
  • “If you want to pay attention to the Holy Spirit in theology, that means you have to pay attention to embodied experiential realities.”
  • Worshipping of God as Trinity before identifying the doctrine of the Trinity
  • Karen Kilby’s “apathetic trinitarianism”
  • Pentecostalism, affect, and play
  • Establishing a spiritual connection between you and God
  • Touch, sweat, and movement
  • Nemi Waraboko’s The Pentecostal Principle: Ethical Methodology in New Spirit
  • Openness to new things, dynamism
  • Play and grace
  • An embarrassment of play, in the best way possible
  • The freedom of the Spirit: free to get it wrong in a “relaxed field”
  • Grace as the ultimate “relaxed field”

Production Notes

  • This podcast featured Simeon Zahl
  • Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
  • Hosted by Evan Rosa
  • Production Assistance by Macie Bridge, Alexa Rollow, & Tim Bergeland
  • A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School
  • Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture:
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