Friday, May 29, 2015

Susanna Wesley Takes On Aristotle

In his book The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Fred Sanders gives a few glimpses into the personal devotional journal of Susanna Wesley (mother of John and Charles Wesley and seventeen more children, nine of whom died as infants) who, at the time she wrote the quote that follows, was "a full-time homeschooling mother."1 In the journal entry the quote comes from, Susanna is engaging the thought of none other than the philosopher Aristotle, who taught that "the world eternally existed along with God."2

Susanna Wesley notes that Aristotle seems to have understood that God was essentially good, and given this, he must "eternally be communicating good to something or other."3 In other words, if God is by nature one who gives of himself, then he must be always, eternally, giving to someone or something. And this is where the idea of an eternal world comes in. The world is the eternal receiver God's eternal self-giving goodness. But of course, this also makes God dependent on the world to be all that he is—and we can't have a dependent God, can we?

Aristotle's problem, according to Susanna Wesley, was that he had no knowledge of the revealed doctrine of the Trinity.
For had he ever heard of that great article of our Christian Faith concerning the Holy Trinity, he had then perceived the almighty Goodness eternally communicating being and all the fullness of the Godhead to the divine Logos, his uncreated Word, between whose existence and that of the Father there is not one moment assignable.4
She's exactly right about this: Because the true God exists as Trinity, with the Father eternal giving of himself to the co-eternal Son, an eternal world is not necessary for God to be eternally good. God can be good "in himself" and "from himself" because he is Father, Son, and Spirit.

Sanders includes this quote and more from Susanna Wesley to show, in part, that Evangelicals have deep Trinitarian roots. I'm quoting it for another reason—to encourage all of us, even as busy women with many responsibilities, to follow Susanna's example and use our brains to think through the implications of the doctrines we hold, and the implications of doctrinal error, too. If someone who is busy running a house full of children, giving birth to babies and burying nearly half of them, can manage a little time to ponder weighty theological issues, so can we. Our faith will be stronger and we will be less prone to doctrinal error if we engage our minds to the best of our abilities to think carefully and deeply about the true significance of what we know and learn.

1] Deep Things of God, Fred Sanders, page 69.
2] Ibid, page 68.
3] Ibid, page 68.
4] Ibid, page 68.

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