Herold Weiss has presented a densely packed working out of one’s salvation. In such a time when fundamentalists are grappling with issues of the faith, the Faith, and scholarly advancements which sometimes shed a different light on the Scriptures, Weiss shows that he himself has already faced these struggles and emerged on the other side a more developed Christian, and one able to maintain a healthy interaction between faith and historical criticism. He never lost his faith, although it was assuredly changed, molded, and indeed, very much enlivened when he let go of his sectarian indoctrination to grapple with both the Jesus of History and the Christ of faith.
Weiss’s book is an autobiographical tale beginning with his earliest days in Montivideo, Uruguay as a fourth generation Seventh-Day Adventist. He highlights his days of youth and brings light to South America in an almost travel writer’s way. Moving from Uruguay to Argentina we encounter the Welsh settlements and, more importantly, German settlements during World War II. In the mix of this is Weiss’ growing up, if you will, as a Seventh-Day Adventist and his relating of the struggles first within the denomination, his adherence to the doctrine, and finally to the struggles that he himself had concerning fundamentalist doctrines and hermeneutical precepts. He lets us into his working out of the faith, which sometimes includes larger than life theological figures such as Barth, von Rad and more importantly to Weiss, Rudolf Bultmann. In these figures, Weiss finds enlightenment to maintain his faith even as he was coming to terms with not believing certain strict interpretations which had been mandatory in his upbringing. As he explored the rich insight offered by historical criticism and other areas of biblical studies, Weiss writes of reactionary elements within the Seventh-Day Adventist Church which would eventually force him to take a position at a Catholic college, where he found both the intellectual freedom in his field and career advancement. All along, he writes of God’s unseen hand opening these doors, which would otherwise be unknown to a recent German immigrant to Uruguay turn itinerant family in Argentina’s younger son.
Weiss is retired now, but still actively involved in a Spanish Seventh-Day Adventist congregation local to him. How is this possible? Because he long ago, maybe with the help of Bultmann and later his fellow colleagues, realize that one could continue to question and advocate for a richer faith through historical criticism and still find his way in a congregation of the faithful. He grew – he lived, and he grew and he attributes to Paul’s trinity – to faith, hope, and love. He grappled with the rise of higher criticism, embraced it, challenged some of it, and thereby grew. He escaped his former sectarianism – and it was a sectarianism which helped to spawn what we currently see in fundamentalism, that of the King James Onlyism and Creationism – with his faith not just intact, but filled with doubt, and finally, it was his own. For those who are struggling with faith and fact, Weiss’ book is an extraordinarily beautiful work of art, filled with the richness of South American life, a history alive as we face racial segregation in the South (which came across pretty odd to a Spanish-speaking South American of German decent) and the Cuban missile crisis, and join him in classrooms (both as student and then as teacher) and archaeological digs. While not a deep theological book, nor an overtly spiritual one, Weiss’ work must serve as an example of someone who stood at the crossroads and moved forward without losing his love of God, or his mind.