If you are a Protestant, but sometimes wonder if Protestantism is missing something, here is a thought-provoking read. I’ve been Protestant my whole life, yet recently there’s been a search for something that Protestantism hasn’t supplied. I wondered whether it was me. However, Gallatin, a former-Protestant-covert-to-Orthodoxy, uses his own personal journey as a means of conversation about Protestantism and it’s “Shallow Wells.” Gallatin’s provocative title describes his understanding of Protestantism, it’s a land of shallow wells that leaves one thirsting for something more.
First off, let me say this was an easy read. Gallatin is a fine writer and communicates in such a way you feel more like a partner in a conversation than a recipient of a theological-historical lecture. When he shares his concerns, questions, or frustrations with his Protestant upbringing, I found myself often in agreement. His use of analogies and comparisons throughout the book were spot-on, often causing me to write in the margins, “Good point!”
Gallatin starts his book with a brief retelling of his journey from Protestantism to Orthodoxy. This journey is eye-opening. You can feel his passionate desire to discover the Truth, even while he is being misunderstood as someone who cannot be content anywhere. His questions of Protestantism are honest and worthwhile. He writes in such a way where you are forced to ask yourself questions which you believe you’ve already answered.
Gallatin covers topics like the liturgy, formal prayer, seeking the saints prayers, the role Mary plays in Orthodoxy (rather distinct than the Roman Catholic position concerning Mary), and infant baptism. In each of these areas (among others), Gallatin works to show similarities between the Protestant and Orthodox world while also highlighting the clear differences. He shows how Protestantism and Orthodoxy are not simply different theologies, but different ways of life.
For me, his most thought-provoking sections were where he discussed those different ways of life. In his understanding of the two Christian worlds, Protestantism is at its’ foundation “Rationalist” where as Orthodoxy is “Sacramental.” Protestantism understands growing in maturity as growing in understanding and knowledge, knowing the Bible, having the right apologia for the faith (Greek word meaning “defense”). Church for Protestants includes sermons where information is disseminated to the hearts and minds of believers (hopefully in new and fresh ways, of course!) so that minds are transformed and renewed. I wish I could walk through all Gallatin’s examples to make this paragraph more clear. Yet, as one who has lived in Protestantism his whole life, earning a BA and MA from Protestant institutions, I must say his argument was “rational” (!) and spoke quite well to my experience.
Juxtaposed to the Protestant “rational” way of life is Orthodoxy’s “sacramental” approach. Orthodoxy is a life to be lived and participated in, not thought about and systematized. Theology is less about learning facts and proof texts and more about your life being factual displaying the person of Christ. Certainty, something sought after in Protestantism in all the tomes of systematic theology, is downplayed in favor of mystery, a point of emphasis for Orthodox theologians. Central to the Orthodox life is the pursuit of holiness through spiritual disciplines designed to root out the love of the world and the lust of the flesh so entrenched in the human heart. Orthodoxy carries a serious understanding of “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord” meaning a need to grow into the image of Christ; Protestantism, on the other hand, would downplay the need to grow into the image of Christ as a pursuit of holiness because holiness isn’t worked for, but imputed. Gallatin uncovers a dichotomy worth pondering.
Whether in the end you agree with Gallatin’s work or find yourself unmoved by his arguments, hearing from an Orthodox brother is both an intellectual and emotional ride. Personally speaking, I feel until recently I’ve really only read Protestants with whom I already agreed with. I felt I needed to understand perspectives of the faith outside my own lifetime experience. Gallatin helped me see the world and the faith through the eyes of tradition I have had almost no exposure to over the course of my life. I’m grateful for the opportunity to read. Maybe you’ll get a chance, too.