When he was nine-years-old, Matthew Gallatin experienced God. He grew up in a Christian family, so he always knew of God. However, it was on that day that he truly experienced God. The rest of his life would be spent figuring out how to respond to it.
When he was slightly older, Gallatin’s family joined a Seventh-Day Adventist church. There he learned lots of doctrine, and, most especially, how everyone else was wrong about worshipping on Sundays. The Bible clearly states that the Sabbath (Saturday) should be kept holy, and Matthew could recite the verses to prove it. He even took several years of theological training in the Seventh-Day Adventist tradition. Yet, the more he read the Bible, the less convinced he was by the claims of the SDA church. So he started doing his own research. Eventually, he arrived at the conclusion that the Scriptures more clearly aligned with Fundamentalist Protestant theology. Thus, after five years of struggle and study, he became a Fundamentalist Protestant.
Yet, even though the Fundamentalists had solid doctrine, Gallatin felt none of the joy or spirit that he had felt at age nine. He found that spirit in the Charismatic tradition. Therefore, he became a Charismatic Pastor, excited to share with others the same warmth of God that he had once felt. Yet, he once again found his experiences failing to meet his doctrine. Members of his congregation asked him why they didn’t feel God’s presence or why they couldn’t speak in tongues. His only response was for them to try harder. Eventually, this response became even too empty for him. So he began seeking again, searching for truth, digging through the Bible for the proper understanding of God. Now, however, he realized just how hopeless it was: he was thoroughly trapped in his interpretation of Scripture. Even though he was reading the same words as another Christian, he came to different conclusions depending on how much weight he applied to which verses. In the end, appealing to Scripture alone was completely subjective, because it relied completely on the reader. The Bible may be a source of absolute truth, but he had no means of accessing that truth without muddying it up with his own interpretations.
Gallatin struggled with his ideology of Christian Nihilism until he had an epiphany (ironically enough, from the Bible itself). 2 Thessalonians 2:15 says, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (NKJV). Tradition? Gallatin had always been taught that the Bible was the only source of authority, not tradition. Yet, Paul states here the Epistle (Scripture) was not the Thessalonians’ only source of theology: tradition (words they had received from Paul or from other Apostles) was also a valid source of knowledge. This threw Gallatin’s whole world into a tailspin. Perhaps this was his source of objective truth after all. By interpreting Scripture via Apostolic Tradition, he avoided both subjectivity and held to the historical roots of Christianity. The simple teachings of Scripture could be discerned by all (love your neighbor, love your enemies, love God), but for the tricky bits (age of baptism, style of worship, the sacraments) Tradition would be serve as the definitive interpretation.
Of course, this resulted in another problem: which tradition to follow? Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox? Well, historically Roman Catholicism birthed the Reformation. How could the one true faith, holding to Apostolic Tradition, require reformation? Thus, Gallatin became Orthodox.
The latter half of the book breaks from Gallatin’s story and moves to an explanation of Orthodox life and doctrine. Gallatin strives to explain away some of the basic objections Protestants might have to Orthodoxy: infant baptism, invocation of saints during prayer, the importance of Mary, and icons. Gallatin does a solid job of making the case for Orthodoxy logically, Biblically, and historically. Yet (forgive me for speaking subjectively for a moment), there a moments when I felt a bit of frustration bleeding through. Gallatin is so eager to convince others of the shallowness of Protestantism (though, in truth, only certain strands of Protestantism would object to these doctrines) that he sometimes comes across as angry. In a sense, the force of Gallatin’s arguments were necessary, as I personally would never have even considered his point had he not been somewhat ‘in your face.’ However, there were also moments that would turn off someone who sincerely held to those beliefs, ruining the point of the argument.
However, Gallatin does a marvelous job of arguing for the necessity of Tradition. Unfortunately, his rejection of Catholicism was somewhat less strong, as I never really felt sure of why he picked Orthodoxy instead of Catholicism. Also, as someone who is somewhat tired of arguing over proper interpretation over a few verses, I was somewhat annoyed by the way Gallatin took one or two verses and staked much of his case on that. Speaking subjectively again, it seemed like Gallatin was leaning back toward his Fundamentalist Protestant ways: Well, the Bible says it, so that settles it!
Ultimately, this is a book which will probably cause you to do a lot of thinking. I know it did for me. It made me reconsider how I think about the Bible, how I think about Christianity, and how I think about thought itself. It has set me off on a journey to look closer at my faith and my Church tradition. If you want to join me, or if you are just interested in learning more about Eastern Orthodox thought and doctrine, why don’t you try Thirsting for God: In a Land of Shallow Wells?
Published on 21 September, 2016. Last updated on