Folsom, Marty. Face to Face – Volume Three: Sharing God’s Life.
Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016.
Paperback. 423 pages. ISBN: 9781498207607
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Throughout his Face to Face trilogy, Marty Folsom seeks to give his reader the tools to imagine a life of Christian faith as one primarily characterized by relationality. Folsom, a theologian trained under the inimitable Alan Torrance and a long-time therapist, seeks to bring his two disciplines together in this series which finds its climax in the third, subtitled “Sharing God’s Life.” To do so, Folsom interestingly adopts a robustly Barthian frame of reference; interesting, for Barthian theology is sometimes categorized as coolly Calvinistic and insufficiently relational. However, Folsom seeks to show that this theological method – which invariably has for its starting point God’s self-disclosure in Jesus Christ – as one that is hyper-relational.

While the subtitle “Sharing God’s Life” might suggest that this volume takes the shape of a practical manual for Christian living, Folsom devotes much of the tome to questions of theological epistemology. The book is divided in three parts: the first devoted to establishing his epistemic ‘method’ – insofar as his claim that the knowledge of God is primarily a question of encounter rather than grasping foundational principles, effectively echoing Karl Barth’s nein! to natural theology; the second to the barriers to practicing such a form of a relational knowledge; and the third to the God whom it is we seek to know. In so doing, Folsom seeks to bring the best of constructive theology together with his own insights as a therapist (devoting a chapter to his perception of the intersection between Trinitarian theology and Bowen family systems theory) – rendering this volume neither a work of ‘pure’ theology, which seems not to be Folsom’s goal, nor a ‘spiritual’ tract removed from the rigour of the systematic tradition.

At the heart of the book is the conviction that Jesus Christ embodies, reveals, and redeems the covenantal relationship between Creator and creation. Folsom reveals the pitfalls of those theological moves which establish God as humanity-writ-large as obstructing the human ability to live in communion with God who is principally free and ‘other’. While these types of analyses might be perceived as methodologically defensive, Folsom rather demonstrates the vitality which emerges from operating out of the Church’s primary encounter with Jesus Christ. The remainder of the book presents ways in which we may learn to further conform ourselves to the self-revealing God: a conformity which manifests itself in interpersonal relations (making similar moves as social trinitarianism) and will be ultimately present in the eschaton.

Folsom’s book succeeds in making the connection between ‘systematic’ and ‘practical’ theology (given the insistence by some to delineate between the two) through his use of metaphor, quotidian examples of his more theoretical points, and a more-or-less accessible manner of writing. However, at 423 pages, this volume has the scope of a systematics without its rigour. Moreover, the levity of many of Folsom’s terms undermine the otherwise salient points he wishes to make (“Jesus is the hologram of God” (243); “Trinity Deficit Disorder” (228); the Holy Spirit as “the G-host, the God-host who abides in us to bring us to the table as participants in the feast of family life.” (346)) Folsom wishes to make his vital theological principles clear to his reader, but it is possible that they are obscured by such language.

On the whole, however, Marty Folsom offers a fresh and thorough view into the relationality of the Trinity and its import for Christian theology and praxis. While many books with this theme recommend a form of deconstruction to maximize personal experience in relationship to the Divine, this is an exciting alternative.  This volume would be a welcome resource to clergy or laypeople looking to deepen their relationship with God and with neighbour.