I recently asked a church historian the following question:
I had a question about John and Charles Wesley. As you know, both men had a deep emotional revulsion towards the Reformed doctrine of reprobation, using epithets like “blasphemy!” “Worse that Moloch!” “Worse than Satan!” and so on.
So it was more than just a doctrinal disagreement. It really got under their skin.
This is what I was wondering. It’s a psychological truism that a man’s view of God is sometimes a projection, for better or worse, of his childhood experience with his own father. Paul Vitz did a whole book on the subject (Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism).
From what I’ve read, Samuel Wesley was a real tyrant. He was as dreadful a father as Susanna Wesley was wonderful.
I wonder if John and Charles didn’t unconsciously superimpose their unpleasant memories of Samuel Wesley onto Calvin’s God, while their own view of God was more like their beloved mother, Susannah. Do you think those emotional, subliminal associations may account for the vehemence of their reaction to Calvinism?
To which I received the following (partial) reply:
To the degree that emotional impressions may affect one’s biblical exposition and theological reflections, one would be safe to see something of the Wesleys' father as a possible suspect in the Wesleyan understanding of the decretal will of God. The Father seemed much more interested in politics than in shepherding and his arbitrariness with his daughters wrought some devastating effects in their lives, quite talented and clever in their own right.
Such absolutism perhaps seemed, cruel, unthinking, and unjust in their minds and they could not imagine that a heavenly father, infinitely perfect and loving would determine to conduct himself in the same way toward his rational creatures.
The explanations that Wesley's mother gave of certain theological ideas stayed with Wesley all his life and seemed always adequate to any occasion in polemical discussions.