Theology, Ethics and . . . What?

I am currently reading Michael Horton’s Thanksgiving post at Out of the Horse’s Mouth (the White Horse Inn blog), “Joining the Thanksgiving Parade.” In his introduction, he brings up a famous quote–sort of a theological proverb. Here’s Horton’s words:

The Heidelberg Catechism, in fact, is structured in terms of Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude, leading G. C. Berkouwer to conclude, “The essence of theology is grace; the essence of ethics is gratitude.” Or, as we have say around here, duties (imperatives) are always grounded in gospel promise (indicatives). The appropriate response to a gift is thankfulness. (emphasis mine)

In light of this reminder, I simply have a question for students of Reformed theology in general, and the Heidelberg Catechism in particular:

  • If grace is the essence of theology, and gratitude is the essence of ethics, then guilt is the essence of what?

Please submit your answers in the comments thread.

May the grace of God in Christ crucified and risen to atone for your guilt inspire much gratitude in you this Thanksgiving!

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6 responses

  1. I’m trying to decide if the best answer is “sin” or “depravity”. But in the recesses of my thoughts I am considering “cosmology” in the sense that cosmology is the reality of creation and natural order.

    1. In that the Heidelberg Catechism answer 2 states that knowledge of how great one’s sins and miseries are is necessary to the comfort of assurance in Christ and a happy life and death, your first suggestion bears consideration. Perhaps it could then be added to Dr. Berkouwer’s axiom as “guilt is the essence of hamartiology.”

      Guilt as the essence of cosmology is also a worthy suggestion. In that the whole creation groans with us for redemption, it’s certainly not out of the question biblically, but it may be broader than the scope of the catechism.

      I have a suggestion that falls somewhere between hamartiology and cosmology, but I’m hoping to see what others suggest before I share mine.

  2. Of course hamartia is the greek word for sin, missing the mark. It also occurred to me that “envy” would be a fitting answer, “fear” a little farther off, but both driving forces for sin. The difficulty in this little matching game is that the “study of sin” doesn’t have a well used and well known doiscipline so tjhat the work comes easily to mind. Interesting.

  3. The answer you’re looking for is “Anthropology”

  4. Anthropology – the study of nature of man

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