Dr. Marty Folsom is a personal friend of mine, and fellow denizen of the Pacific Northwest, and has the largest private theological library I've ever seen (with an entire bookcase full of Karl Barth books too.) Dr. Folsom is a worldwide leading theologian in Trinitarian Relational Theology and an expert on John Macmurray, John Zizioulas, and Karl Barth. So I have been anxious to get my hands on a copy of his latest book, Face to Face: Volume Three: Sharing God's Life and dig into Relational Theology for the third time! I've been excited for this third installment in his Face to Face series ever since I laid hands on the first two books in his series in 2015. If you don't know Marty, I highly recommend reading his interview with Karl Barth For Dummies.
In this following review of Dr. Folsom's Face to Face, Vol. 3., I've focused on the Barthian themes in Dr. Folsom's book, but this book is not an epitome or repetition of Barth, and he goes beyond Barth to places that many wish Barth might have gone. But, for my own personal interest, and of those of my readers, I've focused on the Barthian elements as an introduction to Dr. Folsom's excellent book, Face to Face, Vol. 3.
An Introduction to the Face to Face series
Face to Face Vol. 3 builds upon relational theology themes he established in the first two books in the series. In this third book, Dr. Folsom applies Relational Theology to the Christian Life, in a continuation of his previous books, that works out how his theology may be applied here and now. Here an introduction to Face to Face, Vol. 3 in Dr. Folsom's own words:
"This third book is longer than the first two in my Face to Face series; it takes on the most important connection in life. The first book discusses our disconnection, both from God and within our human relationships. The second book focused on our human life in reconnection with each other and with God. This present volume takes on the complexities of a whole life of relating with God in intimate connection. It draws from theologians and philosophers, but tries to mostly leave their complex conversations in the kitchen in order to serve you a meal that is tasteful, nutritious, and provides a relationally transforming experience. Enjoy the meal, but do not eat too fast." 
What is Relational Theology?
Dr. Folsom is able to explain Relational Theology without being ladened by theological jargon that weighs down other books. A great strength of Face to Face Vol. 3 is that it is very accessible and easy for anyone to read and comprehend. This is demonstrated by how Folsom is able to define his Relational Theology through kitchen conversation.
But what is "Relational Theology"? Dr. Folsom provides the following definition:
"Relational Theology is a term I use to bring Trinitarian-Incarnational conversations to the non-theological people I engage. My core belief is that God exists in relationship and all that God does is for the purpose of relationship. If the questions we ask are not based in the philosophical arguments of the centuries, but rather listen carefully to the faithfulness of God to create and embrace the world created and sustained in love, we can begin to hear scripture reveal the relational purposes of God as the personal engagement of God speaking into our human communities and relations." 
Dr. Folsom's Relational Theology is fascinating to me, because I've always liked the theological idea of coram Deo, which is a latin phrase meaning "before the face of God" or "in the presence of God" or "being face to face with God." Although I prefer the term coram Deo, Dr. Folsom's "Face to Face" relates to the coram Deo in much more relatable terms without the theological jargon. Through the Christian's experience in the coram Dei, we are brought into proximity of other Christians, and as we approach the coram Dei, we simultaneously come into relation with each other through our joint experience in Jesus Christ, and therefore we are brought face-to-face with Jesus and all other Christians through relational community.
A Barthian Summary of Face to Face
Anytime I read a book, the first thing I do, is to flip to the Names Index, and see how many times Karl Barth is cited. I had the opportunity to bypass the index, and ask Dr. Folsom directly how he uses Karl Barth in a personal interview, and he provided me a one-liners chapter-by-chapter in Face to Face, Vol. 3 explaining how he used Barth throughout the book. Here's that list:
- In Chapter 1, I talk about Persons, building on Polanyi, Macmurray and Barth as a coming to fulfillment as Persons in Christ with a concluding section on Knowing God through Christ as a Barth capstone.
- Chapter 2 is about knowing another in the moment, Face to Face and that is in the act of knowing with a memory as context, a riff on Barth's actualistic thinking.
- Chapter 3 is an interpretation of Barth's sense of the relation between science and faith that builds an objective knowing of the subject who is God as an appropriate scientific endeavor.
- Chapter 4 echos Barth's the hiddenness of God
- Chapter 5 echoes the Natural Theology debate and why it is important.
- Chapter 6 is a riff on the idea that God speaks, and how we make that personal, building on the relational sense of Barth's discovery of the Living God in the Bible.
- Chapter 7 is an attempt to expand on analogia relationis as a way of entering into the life of God's mystery.
- Chapter 8 echoes the Creation/Covenant relation of Barth and the Torrances.
- Chapter 9 is a Trinitarian exploration of what it means to live within the life of the Triune Family. It goes beyond Barth, but is based on Barth's basic Trinitarian vision.
- Chapter 10 is a riff on the eschatological vision of what would be CD 5, the life of the future shared with God redeemed as we live imaginatively now in the future God has promised.
- In the Epilogue, there are some important discussions on trinitarian conclusions and the Concluding Postscript which is more Kierkegaard, considering an existential sense of what it means to attune to the God who is there. 
In my interview with Dr. Folsom, he told me that "every chapter has echoes of Barth but goes places Barth did not go, so he may take it where people always wish Barth went—to the lived life of daily existence within the Grace that triumphs in Christ. It is an echo of Barth, but written for those who cannot comprehend him. Nothing is contrary to Barth, I hope. The whole book is a multi-braided rope of an argument taking Barth, Macmurray, the Torrances, Polanyi, and Family Systems, Attachment, and Addiction Theory."
Anecdotes from Face to Face Vol. 3
What I enjoyed most about this book, was that Dr. Folsom was able to apply very complicated theological ideas from Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics using relatable and understandable language, and he is able to explain them plain enough anyone may understand. I've quote-mined Face to Face, Vol. 3 to give some specific examples as a taste of the book.
No to Natural Revelation
Karl Barth is famous for his rejection of Natural Revelation, and this is puzzling to many theological students the first time they learn this truth, because there are verses like Romans 1:19-20, Psalm 19 and Psalm 140 that prima facie appear to affirm Natural Revelation, Natural Theology or General Revelation at first glance. In Chapter 5 "Sleight-of-Hand thinking", Dr. Folsom effortly explains the problem of Natural Revelations, as exemplified in the following selections:
"The Problem of General Revelation . . . Many theology books begin with a section on general revelation. These chapters discuss the discovery of God that can be made through human reason, observation, or intuition derived from the natural world. These experiences provide a "point of contact" [note: "The phrase of Emil Brunner in the great Barth-Bruner wrestle-off. Barth said "Nein! No!" to natural theology.] between God and humanity. Proponents argue that humans can discern God's reality, design, and power from looking at this world. But we ought to have serious concerns regarding what is read out of God's creation and what is read into it through this assessment." 
"General revelation too easily functions as mythology. It becomes a Christian form of this ancient practice. Grounded in human experience, it splashes human characteristics and attributes beyond the clouds, hoping to paint God in a form that tickles our fancy. Taking our sense of morality, or the evidence of the world's structure, forms a starting point: "God must think like me if God made me or ordered the world so I could understand it." This sounds innocent, but becomes anthropomorphic, creating God in the form of human thought or characteristics" 
Dr. Folsom responds to objections by quoting Romans 1:19-20, and explaining why this verse this verse does not justify Natural Revelation:
"To the student asking the question, it seems clear that we can know God through nature. However, the point Paul makes is that absolutely no one got it--sin blinded all humanity. All remained ignorant; all missed God's glory--this is clear if you read on to chapter 3 of Romans. Paul is saying that God's creative work is evident only after someone points it out to us--absolutely no one found the Creator God by themselves through creation. Beforehand, they were blind to seeing the Creator through creation. THey could see the evidence only when God was personally revealed to them. Everyone missed what was evident." 
Overall, I really appreciated how Dr. Folsom presented a very advanced discription of why we should say No to Natural Revelation without all the theological rhetoric and debates.
John Calvin's Scripture Spectacles
Dr. Folsom's book is not merely an explanation of Karl Barth. Dr. Folsom pillages from many great theologians throughout Church history throughout the book as Face to Face, Vol. 3 unfolds. One example, that I was pleased to see Dr. Folsom employ, was John Calvin's famous comparison of the Bible to eyeglasses in Chapter 5 as well. I'm a big fan of Calvin (even though the Calvinists give him a bad name these days).
"As John Calvin later asserts, we must look through spectacles—Scripture—in order to see the Creator God and understand creation. Otherwise, rather than finding God, we will misinterpret the created order according to our purposes. [Note: "Calvin's Institutes. ". . . like a pair of spectacles that enable us to properly interpret what we see in creation."] We are inadequate by ourselves. In Romans, Paul rejects the human ability to find God on our own; he argues for God's exclusive capacity to make God's self known. Our authentic knowledge must come through being attuned to the other. God does this for us in Christ." 
Dr. Folsom's third volume in his Face to Face series is longer than the previous two installments, but is in every way as accessible as before. In this book, he applies what he wrote in the previous two volumes to our Christian Life. The volume is well written and will be interesting to any reader of Karl Barth, John Macmurray, and the Torrances, and is a great book for anyone who has never heard of those theologians as well! Dr. Folsom's use of personal themes from Karl Barth's The Church Dogmatics, Vol. 3/2 was particularly fascinating to me, and I hope to explore them in a later post. Dr. Folsom provides unique insights in his Relational Theology, and accomplishes his basic goal to rediscover the Living God of the Bible. If you are looking for a great new book with fresh ideas from a Relational Theology perspective, then this may be the book for you!
[^1] Folsom, Marty. "Relational Theology – Dr Marty Folsom. Trinity In You." Trinity In You. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2017. <http://trinityinyou.com/relational-theology/>.
[^2] Folsom, Marty. Face to Face: Volume Three: Sharing God's Life. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016. Preface. Print.
[^3] Folsom, Marty. Personal Interview. January 20th, 2017.
[^4] Face to Face. Ibid. 110.
[^5] Ibid. 111.
[^6] Ibid. 112.
[^7] Ibid. 112-3
[^8] Personal Interview. Ibid.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received these book free from Wipf and Stock. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Related: Face to Face, Face to Face: Volume Three: Sharing God's Life, John Macmurray, Karl Barth, Marty Folsom