Benjamin DURHEIM.  Christ’s Gift, Our Response:  Martin Luther and Louis-Marie Chauvet on the Connection between Sacraments and Ethics.  Collegeville:  The Liturgical Press, 2015.  pp. 162 + xviii. $24.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8323-1.  Reviewed by Stephen S. WILBRICHT, Stonehill College, Easton, MA  02357.


The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, when, in dramatic fashion, Martin Luther affixed his “Ninety-five Theses” to the church door in Wittenberg.  For those engaged in ecumenical dialogue between Christian denominations across the board, this anniversary stands as an opportunity for deeper engagement and true celebration of the common bond that unites Christian believers of every stripe.

Benjamin Durheim’s book invites us to consider, from an ecumenical perspective, the intrinsic connection between sacramental worship and ethical commitment.  His method is not to explore the sacramental theology of Martin Luther and Louis-Marie Chauvet as a mutual critique but rather as a constructive conversation.  In his words:  “the central aim of this book is to build a new bridge across the Tiber (or at least to refurbish a neglected one) for theology in sacraments and ethics” (xi).  Rather than communion as the primary goal of ecumenism, Durheim suggests conversation with the “goal of enriching one’s own theological standpoint” (xiii).

The structure of the book is balanced and straightforward.  Chapter one provides background on the historical tension between liturgy and ethics.  Durheim selects several voices to represent the work of the nineteenth/twentieth-century liturgical movement, as well as contemporary scholars who probe the connection between worship and work.  This sets the stage for his contextualization of Louis-Marie Chauvet’s sacramental theology and the various interpretations, or schools of thought, around the figure of Martin Luther.

Chapters two and three focus on Luther and Chauvet respectively.  Here Durheim discovers that the sacramental theologies of both authors share the commonality of defining grace in terms of “God’s gift.”  For Luther, God’s gift means “promise and presence.” Durheim writes:  “For Luther, everything rests on God’s promise, given by Christ and through his presence in the sacraments to each particular Christian” (47-8).  Chauvet, on the other hand, speaks of gift in terms of “symbolic exchange.” For Chauvet, the gift God provides is returned by the human response of love.

In chapter four, Durheim places Luther and Chauvet in conversation with each other, seeking to substantiate the importance of “gift” in the language of both theologies, to understand the human person in relationship to sacraments, and to define the role of the community in that relationship.  This conversation reveals that “life in Christ is a life of Christian ethics . . . grace and the sacraments in this way do not constitute an ethical ‘get out of jail free’ card; they bring with them a life sentence” (123).  A Christian who celebrates Christ’s presence in the sacraments cannot but live that presence for others.

For those who have had little exposure to either the thought of Martin Luther or Louis-Marie Chauvet, this short book could pose a challenge.  Reading its pages requires earnest and patient concentration and effort.  This is neither a critique of Durheim’s careful scholarship nor his writing style, rather it is to say that he has chosen to pair together two complex (and often controversial) figures.  Nevertheless, his model of setting up a stage for conversation is one that ought to be valued and replicated in the milieu of celebrating the work of reform in the Christian church.