Erin M. BRIGHAM, Sustaining the Hope for Unity: Ecumenical Dialogue in a Postmodern World.  Collegeville, Min: Liturgical Press, 2012. Pp.160. $29.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8022-3. Reviewed by Nathan KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618

As I write this some prominent global cultures are striving to purify and homogenize themselves; others, are dealing with the results of massive waves of immigration and its consequent heterogeneity.  Erin Brighman’s application of Jurgan Habermas’s theories of truth and communication to the ecumenical movement offers lessons in finding the proper ratio of unity and diversity in societies seeking unity amidst violent plurality. Its focus, as the title makes evident, is on dialogue as a means of bringing about Christian unity, especially as it occurs within the World Council of Churches.

She provides these lessons in four chapters. The first describes how Habermas’ thought helps us deal with the postmetaphysical views of religion, rationality, and religious discourse. The second chapter examines two historical attempts to bring unity to a Church divided: the Emperor Zeno’s edict known as the Henoticon (482) that tried to bring together the Chalcedon and non-Chalcedonian churches and the Council of Florence (1431-1445) that attempted to unite Eastern and Western Christianity. The third chapter summarizes the diverse attempts to understand what a unified Christian church would look like and the role of the 1950 Toronto statement’s (The Church, the Churches and the World Council of Churches”) in bringing it about. The final chapter applies Habermas to the challenge of unity provided by the ecumenical movement and meets that challenge by offering a necessary model of dialogue as we progress toward our eschatological future.

She says that the success of the ecumenical encounter among the churches cannot be measured solely by visible unity, but it must take into consideration the effects of the communicative process itself.  This process will occur if the ecumenical movement is open to ecclesiological pluralism. The churches involved in the process must be able to raise truth claims about unity out of the particularity of their own tradition. The ability for raising such claims cannot be successfully achieved without allowing for a hierarchy of truths. Only then can the necessary level of truth claims for the consensus building dialogue enliven the movement toward unity. Foundational to ecumenism’s success is the realization that it is in the hands of God – its ultimate realization is within God’s own time, the eschatological times. Any consensus that is achieved in an ecumenical context must be understood provisionally because it emerges out of an imperfect communicative encounter. It is an understanding of this communicative encounter and the realization that it is in God’s hands that sustains our hope for unity in a postmodern world.

This is a book for those familiar with the World Council of Church’s part in the ecumenical movement and those willing to follow the reasoning of philosophers such as Habermas. If you have such familiarity and willingness Dr. Brighman offers you a theoretical basis for balancing diversity and unity.