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Fall 2021 · Vol. 50 No. 2 · pp. 148–164 

A Sense of Direction: A Brief History of the Mennonite Brethren Journal

Vic Froese

When Direction was launched early in 1972, it inherited similar characteristics from its two forerunners, The Voice of Mennonite Brethren Bible College (The Voice) and The Journal of Church and Society (JCS). Both journals were owned and operated by Mennonite Brethren (MB) institutions of higher learning; both were imprinted to varying degrees with Harold Bender’s “Anabaptist Vision”; and both were led by editors keenly attuned to the MB Church and the significant challenges it faced in the US and in Canada.

Direction would “be a forum where mature and concerned churchmen speak to significant questions.”

Despite these commonalities, the compatibility of The Voice (launched in Winnipeg in 1952) with the upstart JCS (launched in Fresno in 1965) was not taken for granted. Although all four schools were Mennonite Brethren, Winnipeg’s Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC) differed in important ways from its American cousins—Tabor College (Hillsboro, Kansas), Pacific College of Fresno (California), and Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (MBBS; Fresno, California). Whereas the US schools were founded by MBs whose parents and grandparents had emigrated from South Russia in the 1870s, 1 MBBC was {149} established by MB emigrants from South Russia in the 1920s. The latter, many traumatized by the horrors brought on by the Russian Revolution (1917-1923), were still not at ease in their new Canadian homeland in 1944 when MBBC was founded. In fact, many still preferred to speak and read German late into the 1960s. 2 Most US MBs, on the other hand, had given up German for English by the end of the First World War, an indication of a higher level of comfort with the American cultural environment.

Nevertheless, it made good sense to merge The Voice with JCS. The Voice had struggled for years to keep a steady stream of articles flowing into its six (later, four) issues per year. MBBC had a relatively small pool of faculty writers to draw upon, and most were already burdened with heavy teaching loads. 3 Moreover, The Voice never had more than a modest number of subscribers 4 and, early on, enough of them neglected to pay the annual subscription fee that David Ewert raised the issue in an editorial. 5 Furthermore, those tasked in 1970 with exploring the viability of a merger believed that readers of one journal could gain from the ideas presented in the other. 6 Ultimately, the prospect of a larger subscriber base, the sharing of editorial and administrative responsibilities, and the promise of a richer exchange of ideas made the move an attractive one.

In fact, it was irresistible. It helped the cause of Canadian proponents of a merger that the current president of MBBS, J. B. Toews, 7 had been MBBC’s president in the 1940s. 8 During his tenure at MBBS, he was instrumental in getting JCS off the ground (in 1965) and then sat on its editorial board. 9 Fears that subscribers might reject the proposed journal were quelled when the jointly produced “inter-institutional” issue of April 1971—the same content appeared both in The Voice and in JCS—garnered mostly positive reader responses. 10 The union of The Voice and The Journal of Church and Society was relatively uncomplicated in the end, and plans were soon afoot to prepare the first issue of Direction.


Below the masthead of the first issue of the new journal (January 1972) was its mission statement. It borrowed heavily from the one that first appeared in The Voice in 1969 (its words are in bold face):

. . . These [sponsoring] schools were founded to train pastors, missionaries and laypeople to assist the church in its witness around the world. They represent the concern to combine theology and arts/science in order to serve the needs of a broad spectrum of the church and society.

Direction seeks to serve its constituency by dealing with theological and church-related concerns and issues. {149}

Direction’s first lead editor was Delbert L. Wiens, a recent PhD (U. of Chicago) who had lately joined the faculty of Pacific College. Six years earlier, he had distinguished himself with a long and controversial essay, “New Wineskins for Old Wine: A Study of the Mennonite Brethren Church,” initially published in the US MB Church periodical, The Christian Leader. 11 Now, in his first editorial, Wiens announced that Direction would “be a forum where mature and concerned churchmen speak to significant questions.” It would not, however, be for the “weak in the faith” who might be troubled by its “doubtful disputations.” First and foremost, it would be offered to “laymen and ministers . . . willing to listen to each other and to think prayerfully” about urgent questions facing the MB Church. In addition to articles relevant to those questions, the journal would include exegetical and historical articles. Furthermore, as in The Voice, important books would be reviewed and a regular column on sermon preparation would appear. 12 Additionally, Direction would help readers understand and assess influential biblical and theological trends outside the denomination. Thoughtful letters responding to published articles would also be printed. 13

Wiens then took the opportunity in his lead article, “The Questions We Face,” to suggest one other purpose for Direction: encouraging honesty and better mutual understanding among MBs with differing worldviews and at various levels of theological and spiritual understanding. The point of this was to dispel the mutual suspicion that was, in Wiens’s view, a serious impediment to brotherly fellowship, which he believed was at the heart of the MB people. As Wiens had said in New Wineskins, “We need to become brothers again, each taking responsibility for melting away the fear and suspicion that surrounds us.” 14 He concluded “The Questions” with the audacious hope that “perhaps, if we are faithful and loving and bold, a journal like this one can in a small way help us to understand each other, to become honest, and to grow into the maturity of the sons of God.” 15

Before the end of Direction’s first year of publication, Wiens presented a plan to get MBs to talk candidly about issues that divided them. To address the vexing problem of conflicting methods of reading the Bible, a series of articles would be published over the following several issues that would “help us to understand where the [hermeneutical] ‘battle’ is now and where we stand in relation to it.” 16 Devon Wiens from Pacific College kicked off the series with an article on the history of biblical criticism, in which he declared its great usefulness to the serious Bible student. He also boldly disavowed dispensationalism, a mode of biblical interpretation widely embraced in the North American MB Church at that time. 17 The January 1973 issue raised the intensity of the discussion {151} with challenging articles on the nature of religious language and on related epistemological and linguistic issues. 18 In the April 1973 issue, A. J. Klassen, theology professor at MBBS, offered a careful historical survey of the attitudes of MBs toward the Bible throughout their history. 19 Delbert Wiens would continue to develop his analysis of issues in the MB Church up to—and even after—his retirement in 1997. 20


While Wiens’s concern for the well-being of the MB Church would endure, he oversaw the publication of articles on subjects about which he himself said little. The role of women in the church was one of these, yet thirteen articles on the subject appeared between 1972 and 1980. 21 Among them was Katie Funk Wiebe’s plain-spoken “Woman’s Freedom—The Church’s Necessity,” published in Direction’s first year. 22 In it, Wiebe criticized the church for focusing too much on what women should not do in church and chastised women for being too compliant when told to be content with less challenging assignments. Wiebe looked forward to the day when “the gap between what [women] can do and what they are allowed to do will disappear. . . . [when the] church will not . . . be afraid to give women the opportunity to develop full use of their talents of love, concern, intellect, spiritual and special skills.” 23

Whereas Wiebe avoided the forbidding waters of biblical interpretation, Hedy Martens plunged right in with her “God’s Word: To Women as to Men.” 24 One of her several key arguments was that many laws and rules in the Bible can be understood as designed to restrain the wayward impulses of a stubborn people. She proposed that Jesus’s answer to the Pharisees who asked him why, if divorce was wrong, Moses allowed it—“It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so”—showed them that “laws were given because people could not be expected to fulfill the original intent of God’s creation.” 25 This answer, she suggested, is a guide to the interpretation of other directives in Scripture that on the surface appear to stifle, oppress, or enslave others. Since the coming of Jesus, Christians are infused by the Spirit and thus empowered to model human relationships as God designed them to be “from the beginning.” The long article was reprinted in the MB Herald where it received some positive but mostly negative reactions. 26


Elmer Martens (MBBS president from 1977 to 1986) began his first term as Direction editor in 1976. In the following year, the subject of biblical {152} interpretation again took center stage. The April 1977 issue left no doubt that Direction had readers outside the small circle of MB academics. In 1976, the editor and publisher of Christianity Today, Harold Lindsell, had written a book entitled, Battle for the Bible, in which he argued that the doctrine of inerrancy was the litmus test of true evangelical faith; no one who believed the Bible to be less than completely accurate in everything it asserted was a true evangelical. 27 Howard Loewen of MBBC pointed out in his review article that the Bible itself regards affirmation of its authority as “a confession of our faith regarding its ability to accomplish its purpose, not a definition of the accuracy of the biblical text itself.” 28 David Ewert, formerly at MBBC but by this time a professor at MBBS, objected to Lindsell’s needless polarizing of evangelicals on the grounds of mere terminology: “It strikes me as unspeakably sad when someone feels ‘called’ to divide the evangelical movement, in which the Bible is confessed to be inspired and authoritative for doctrine and practice, by demanding that everyone use the same vocabulary when defining inspiration.” 29

Lindsell did not receive these criticisms well and in his next book charged Loewen and Ewert with infecting the Mennonite Brethren with “a view of Scripture which impugns inerrancy . . . [and] contradicts the doctrinal platform of their seminary in Fresno.” 30 Among Lindsell’s avid supporters were numerous MB pastors and laymen attracted to his belligerent Fundamentalism. The bitter consequences of Lindsell’s criticisms of the Seminary’s professors are described in painful detail by John E. Toews in his Fall 2013 Direction article. 31


Allen Guenther, professor of Old Testament at MBBS, served as Direction’s editor from 1981 to ’89. When the dust of the Inerrancy Controversy finally settled, MBs engaged in intensive self-examination reflecting a longstanding identity crisis. 32 At a symposium entitled, “Influences Upon Mennonite Brethren Theology,” five major papers were presented and subsequently published in Direction’s July 1981 issue. Among the influences identified were Bender’s “Anabaptist Vision” (Henry G. Krahn), Pietism and Darbyism (Herbert Giesbrecht), Fundamentalism (J. B. Toews), democratic politics (Abe J. Dueck), and affluence (John H. Redekop). Together, these articles paint a detailed picture of external factors that shaped, and in some cases subverted, the MB understanding of Christian life. They also highlighted an undiscriminating openness of many MBs to doctrines and attitudes of other evangelicals and an ignorance of the Anabaptist roots of the MB movement. {153}

The soul-searching did not end there. In 1982, the US MB Conference conducted a large survey, in part replicating an earlier study by Kauffman and Harder of the beliefs and opinions of several Anabaptist denominations, including the MB Church. The findings of the Kauffman and Harder study 33 showed that MBs were strong on orthodoxy but relatively weak on Anabaptist ethics. To the chagrin of MB leaders, the results of their own study in 1982 found no improvement; indeed, the essential link between doctrinal belief and behavior had weakened. Paul Toews noted the irony some years later: “At issue was precisely the same condition that had given birth to the Mennonite Brethren Church in 1860—the discontinuity between piety, creed, and ethics and the place of religious individualism in the body of Christ.” 34 These findings, along with proposed solutions, were published in the Fall 1985 issue of Direction, entitled “Mennonite Brethren Church Membership Profile 1972-1982.” The report was thought so important to US MB leaders that the US Conference Executive took the unprecedented step of covering the cost of getting copies to all non-subscribed US MB churches. An accompanying letter encouraged pastors to place their copies of Direction in their church libraries to make the report more available to their members. 35

The Spring 1988 issue on “Faith and Ethnicity” carried on the introspection as worries about the decline of the MB Church weighed heavily on the minds of its leadership. The issue consisted of papers presented at a 1987 symposium on a controversial book, A People Apart: Ethnicity and the Mennonite Brethren, by Canadian MB churchman and academic John Redekop. Redekop had urged MBs to face the fact that their Christian witness was compromised by the view of most outsiders (and some insiders) that Mennonites were not principally a fellowship of believers open to all, but an ethnic group, membership in which was determined by birth. 36 Redekop insisted that unless radical changes were made—like removing the word “Mennonite” from the denomination’s name and clarifying its Anabaptist theological identity—“we may [soon] become a non-Anabaptist, loosely-bound association of churches theologically indistinguishable from North American evangelicalism.” 37

Alongside Redekop’s response paper were insightful articles by such academic heavyweights as Al Dueck and Robert Enns, Tim Geddert, Allen Guenther, Frances Hiebert, Paul Hiebert, Elmer Martens, John E. Toews, and Delbert Wiens. Not all were as alarmed as Redekop at MBs’ reluctance to shed their ethnicity. For Delbert Wiens, it was another opportunity to revisit a theme he had first addressed in New Wineskins (1965) and in numerous Direction articles since that time. 38 Though he agreed with parts of Redekop’s thesis, his concern was that such self-descriptions as “evangelical” and even “Anabaptist” are, in the end, {154} attempts to make Mennonites look modern. “What makes Mennonites Mennonite,” he insisted, “is not so much what is affirmed as it is the way in which we work together to embody in our individual lives and communities what it means to be disciples of Jesus.” 39

As the 1980s drew to a close, the question of women and church ministry resurfaced in Direction. The Fall 1989 issue on “Ministers in the Church” included two articles on the question; both had been presented at the 1989 MB study conference on “The Nature and Ministry of the Church.” Ed Boschman’s “Women’s Role in Ministry in the Church” was a review of relevant scriptures and rebuttals of more permissive interpretations. One of his conclusions—consistent with his assessment of other relevant texts—was that “while there is no distinction between male or female by way of spiritual position in the Kingdom of Christ, there is a distinction when it comes to the role of authority in the local church and it is rooted in God’s intentional creation order.” 40 In “The Ministry of Women: A Proposal for Mennonite Brethren,” Tim Geddert chose not to present alternative interpretations. Instead, he offered suggestions on how MBs might be able to carry on a civil conversation with each other despite serious hermeneutical differences. 41 Toward this end, he recommended that the Conference not aim for uniformity among MB churches but allow for different convictions and practices. This, he said, would make for “a more conducive climate for dialogue and discernment [which] could lead us closer to an over-all consensus.” 42 In the same issue, the Findings Report, although agreeing that Geddert’s proposal might be the best way forward, noted that “Tolerance between congregations would do little to address the diversity of conviction within local Mennonite Brethren assemblies.” 43

THE 1990s

It was in the 1990s, however, that the issue of women in leadership became especially divisive. 44 Almost all Direction articles on the topic in that decade accepted the view that women should be allowed to serve in any position for which they were gifted, including the position of senior pastor. None denied that specific Pauline scriptures (1 Tim 2:11-12, 14; 1 Cor 11, 14:34; Eph 5) appeared to suggest otherwise, but the case was often made that, carefully examined, even those Pauline passages allowed for more expansive interpretations. In “Paul’s Radical Vision for the Family,” for example, John E. Toews made a strong argument that “headship” in Ephesians 5:21-33 and in 1 Corinthians 11 is best translated as “origin” and so “cannot be used to argue that women are inferior or that women must submit to male church leadership.” 45 {155}

Wearied by earlier exclusive focus on the Pauline corpus, Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen found solace and encouragement in the Johannine Jesus. Her “Jesus and Women in the Gospel of John” uncovers a Jesus who pays no heed to patriarchal views of women in his time: “Rather, he enters into theological discussion with women, affirms them in their public proclamation of his revelation, values them as close friends and chooses them to be witnesses to the truth of his resurrection.” 46 Noting that the vision of Christ’s kingdom as one in which “there is neither male nor female” has not yet been realized, Thiessen asked if the time had not finally come “to free ourselves from our self-imposed bondage and allow the vision of Jesus to break through to our reality in all its fullness?” 47

These and other articles published in this era may have persuaded many MBs to broaden their views of what the Scriptures allowed, but they did not persuade them in sufficient numbers. The question of women in ministry was “settled” to almost no one’s satisfaction. 48


Meanwhile, Direction had been seeing its institutional support base expand. The Board of Christian Literature (later, the Resource Ministries Board) had already joined the four MB schools as a sponsor in 1981. Columbia Bible Institute (now Columbia Bible College) did so in 1989 and Bethany Bible Institute (later Bethany College) in 1994. The Canadian and US MB Conferences would become sponsors in 2002, and in 2011 MBBS Canada (now MB Seminary [Langley, BC]), the Canadian spinoff of MBBS in Fresno, would also join. 49

The most momentous development, however, was the dissolution of the bi-national General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in North America in 2002. It left only a handful of jointly administered agencies intact, of which the Fresno Seminary was one. The future of MBBS proved difficult to negotiate, 50 however, and eventually it was absorbed into Fresno Pacific University and renamed Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. It continues to operate there, albeit in a diminished form. 51

Where Direction was concerned, these changes did not significantly impact its operations. None of Direction’s sponsors (including the recently added Canadian and US MB Executive Boards) withdrew their support. Yet conference dissolution did affect the journal in more subtle ways. The sense of serving a large bi-national church whose two conferences were joined by a common history, common interests, common ministries, and common priorities began to fade. This trend was exacerbated by the retirements, in some cases the deaths, of Direction’s {156} founding editors and writers who had their fingers on the pulse of the General MB Conference. 52 Without them, the urgency connected with the journal’s original vision was less focused. Furthermore, without bi-yearly conferences, opportunities for Direction editors and editorial councilors and writers to meet in person were fewer, and the collegiality among sponsoring institutions that Elmer Martens wrote about in 1997 became more difficult to sustain. 53

THE MILLER ERA (1996-2007)

When Douglas Miller took on the general editor role in 1996, he was the first in that position not to reside in California since MBBC’s Vern Ratzlaff shared the role with Delbert Wiens in the journal’s first few years. 54 Hired by Tabor College as a Biblical and Religious Studies professor in 1993, Miller’s first Direction article appeared in 1995. 55 He was recruited to the Direction editorial council in 1996 and soon thereafter found himself leading the editorial team.

Miller’s first issue celebrated Direction’s twenty-fifth anniversary. In his editorial he announced changes to the journal which included a new feature entitled “Ministry Compass,” a regular column that focused on practical ministry concerns. Miller also floated the idea of soliciting more reader responses via an “electronic bulletin board,” 56 and also raised the possibility of creating a website for the journal. 57

Miller would lead Direction into new territory when he entered a far-reaching agreement with American Theological Library Association (ATLA) to have the full text of Direction’s articles and book reviews included in the ATLA Religion Database. The database remains accessible on numerous online platforms, and since hundreds of colleges, seminaries, and universities subscribe to it, Direction’s inclusion has increased the visibility of its content dramatically. Moreover, the ATLA agreement provided for royalty payments based on the usage of Direction content by online subscribers, a provision that gave the journal much needed additional income. Then in March of 2001, Miller’s idea to put Direction on the web was realized with the launch of 58 A project to scan and upload the complete series of Direction issues to its website was completed in January 2005, expanding Direction’s accessibility to anyone in the world with internet access. Miller’s visionary leadership on these technological fronts continues to reap benefits.

Miller’s duties as general editor were not changed much by these developments. The Fall 2000 issue of Direction had had “Confronting Evil” as its theme, referring to the “evil” that demanded spiritual warfare. But a terrifying new evil—requiring (in the eyes of many) literal warfare, {157} real battles, lethal weapons—descended on the world on September 11, 2001, when it witnessed the murder of almost 3,000 people in New York City and Arlington, Virginia. Though normally not influenced by current events, Direction’s editors were compelled to acknowledge the shocking atrocity. The theme of Fall 2002 issue (“Baptism and Youth”) could not be changed, but the 9/11 events were recognised with reviews of four terrorism-related books. 59 The theme of the immediately following Spring 2003 issue, however, was “Responding to Violence.” Despite few direct references to it, the September 11th attack hovered over it like a cloud. The three articles on Tabor College’s music program in the same issue will have seemed wildly incongruous to some but exactly right to others for its quiet display of resistance to intimidation and fear.


Direction did not immediately turn away from North American MB Church matters with the dissolution of the General MB Conference. Its “Vocation” issue (Fall 2003), for example, was in part prompted by concern for the shortage of pastors in the MB Church on both sides of the border. 60 The Spring 2004 issue, “Baptism and Church Membership,” likewise signalled that addressing general MB Church concerns was not a thing of the past. The issue consisted of papers presented at a convention convened by the Canadian MB Board of Faith and Life. 61 Articles from this conference document the importance of the topic to the Canadian MB Church and, to a lesser extent, the US MB Church. Similarly, even articles on a topic as prone to anti-institutional tendencies as “Christian Spirituality” (Spring 2005) did not veer as far from MB Church piety as might be expected. 62 Anabaptist and early MB practices are prominent in three of the six articles on the topic; another at least pays homage to Menno Simons’s famous “True Evangelical Faith” text. 63

The remaining issues under Miller’s editorial tenure contain articles on a dizzying variety of subjects. Among others are “Exchange as Literary-Theological Pattern in John,” by G. Shillington (Fall 2004); “Genesis 1 and Japanese Culture,” by H. Minamino (Fall 2005); “Imprecation in Israel’s Eighth-Century Prophets,” by P. Gilbert (Spring 2006), “Discerning the Scandal and Its Depth,” by D. Faber (Fall 2006), “Anabaptist Liturgy,” by M. Ferguson, and “How the Cross Saves,” by M. Baker (Spring 2007). While in some cases it is not obvious how they might “serve the Mennonite Brethren constituency,” even esoteric articles can evoke a sense of wonder at spiritual mysteries so deep that they require such elaborate prose to illuminate them.


Vic Froese assumed the general editorship in 2007 and sought to follow Doug Miller’s example of offering academic articles on interesting biblical, theological, and church-related themes. Unlike Delbert Wiens in 1972, Froese had no agenda to advance, no special vision of what the MB Church could be, no penetrating sense of the challenges it faced. The main interest of the CMU librarian with a Toronto School of Theology PhD was the joy of intellectual enlightenment, gained principally through reading works of theology. Direction afforded him the opportunity to be involved in the publication and dissemination of intellectually enriching ideas.

In the past fourteen years, issues that engage Conference concerns have been fewer in number. Important MB Church anniversaries (like the 150th anniversary of the MB Church in 2010) have come and gone without comment. Some interesting MB Church developments failed to get much attention; the USMB Conference’s revision of Article 13 of the Confession of Faith, which concluded in 2014 after five years of deliberation, is a notable example. 64 And a relationship with ICOMB (International Community of Mennonite Brethren), which began in 2012, was not followed up after key presentations at ICOMB’s 2nd Global Higher Education Consultation were published in Direction’s Fall 2012 issue. Excuses are ready to hand, but in the internet age, international collaborations have never been simpler.

And yet, engagements with larger MB Church concerns were not lacking. Key articles in the “Faith and Sex” issue (Fall 2016) came out of a 2015 Canadian MB study conference, “God, Sex & Church: A Theology of Healthy Sexuality.” The “Faith in Words” issue (Fall 2019) dealt with “confession of faith” matters, which continue to occupy both the US and the Canadian MB Conferences (and even ICOMB). 65 Following closely behind were the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 issues devoted to biblical hermeneutics, whose papers were originally presented at a 2019 study conference organized at the request of the National Faith and Life Team of the Canadian Conference. Its expectation was that a widely adopted MB hermeneutical model would enable the membership to move closer to consensus on important questions facing the Canadian MB Church. 66 Publishing those papers in Direction, it was hoped, would contribute to that wide adoption.

It would not be difficult to make the case that issues like “The Emerging Church” (Spring 2010) and “The New Calvinism Considered” (Fall 2013) also served the MB constituency by inviting readers to think carefully about these attractive theological and ecclesiological options. As noted earlier, MBs have a well-deserved reputation for embracing {159} the theological doctrines of any evangelicals with whom they feel a kinship. 67 If even-handed critiques couldn’t persuade them to desist, MB readers would at least be embracing those doctrines with some sense of their limitations.

Likewise, the “Faith and Skepticism” and “Does God Behave Badly” issues were in part a response to the growing number of US and Canadian “nones” (people who, when asked which religion they affiliate with, check the “none” box). 68 In so far as articles from those issues addressed philosophical and moral reasons for rejecting the Christian way, they served the church’s need to offer answers to those among their own adherents who might be enticed by those arguments.

The Fall 2014 “Missions and Indigenous Peoples” issue was prompted by the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings in Canada which concluded four years of hearings in 2015. Three of the authors who contributed to this issue were active in the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS). Others worked closely alongside Indigenous peoples. “Engaging with Muslims” (Spring 2016) included only one article by a Muslim, but four of the other five authors had personal relationships with Muslims and brought valuable insights to the discussion. Both the Indigenous and the Muslim issues were “firsts” for Direction: the former because it allowed Indigenous believers to speak for themselves, and the latter because it included a meditation by a devout Muslim.


It seems likely that Direction will continue to be published for some time. The 2016 decision by the editorial council that sponsoring schools would henceforth each take a turn at producing an issue biennially has reduced the danger that a general editor will burn out prematurely. It has also increased the sponsoring schools’ sense of ownership of Direction and given a greater number of writers opportunities to contribute to the journal. Meanwhile, questions in need of scholarly attention are mushrooming. Germline gene therapy, artificial intelligence, robotics, animal consciousness, not to mention climate change, environmental degradation, Indigenous-settler reconciliation, food security, sexual identity, racism, gun culture, and pandemics all beg for more intensive Christian scholarly attention than can be had in a popular periodical. Still, readers can expect that articles on the Bible, theology, church, MB history, ministry, mission, and all things related will continue to predominate. On the other hand, the receding influence of MB seminaries in shaping MB conference priorities and the dethroning of Bible, theology, and church history in the curriculum of some of our {160} colleges and universities, could mean that the profile of these subjects will shrink, and with it, Direction too.

But until then, work remains to be done. I remain hopeful that this fifty-year-old journal may still, in a small way, contribute to the transformation of minds that the apostle Paul writes about, a challenge that becomes more difficult—and more urgent—as our world becomes more divided, polarized, and chaotic.


  1. Tabor College was established in 1908, Pacific College in 1944, and Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in 1955.
  2. The difficult transition from German to English in Canadian MB churches is explored by Gerald C. Ediger in Crossing the Divide: Language Transition among Canadian Mennonite Brethren, 1940-1970 (Winnipeg, MB: Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 2001).
  3. J. A. Toews, “Stimmen aus der Bruderschaft,” Editorial, The Voice 11, no. 1 (February 1962): [1], 24.
  4. J. H. Quiring, “Editorial,” The Voice 4, no. 1 (February 1955).
  5. David Ewert, “An die Leser unseres Blattes,” Editorial, The Voice 5, no. 2 (April 1956): [1].
  6. Abram G. Konrad et al., “Foreword,” The Voice 20, no. 2 (April 1971): 1; also in JCS 7, no. 1 (April 1971): 1.
  7. J. B. Toews was MBBS’s president from 1964 to 1972.
  8. J. B. Toews was president of MBBC from 1945 to 1948.
  9. The 1964 meeting at which The Journal of Church and Society was launched was convened by J. B. Toews. He and Tabor’s Wesley J. Prieb were the journal’s first associate editors; Peter J. Klassen from MBBS was its first general editor. Peter J. Klassen, “Editorial: Invitation to Involvement,” The Journal of Church and Society 1, no. 1 (Spring 1965): 2.
  10. Delbert L. Wiens, “Editorial,” Direction 1, no. 1 (January 1972): 1. The joint issue was planned by an ad hoc committee consisting of Elmer Martens, Abe Konrad, Vern Ratzlaff, and Delbert Wiens. Both journals provided their readers with a questionnaire to gauge their support for a possible merger. For more details, see Konrad, “Foreword,” 1–2. See also Elmer A. Martens, “Anniversary Reminiscences about Direction,” Direction 26, no. 1 (1997): 4–8.
  11. The essay was an insert in the October 12, 1965, issue of The Christian Leader and also published in booklet form as New Wineskins for Old Wine: A Study of the Mennonite Brethren Church (Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1965).
  12. The Journal of Church and Society carried neither book reviews nor a regular preaching column. {161}
  13. Wiens, Editorial, Direction 1, no. 1 (January 1972): 1.
  14. Wiens, New Wineskins, 25.
  15. Delbert L. Wiens, “The Questions We Face,” Direction 1, no. 1 (January 1972): 7.
  16. Delbert L. Wiens, In This Issue, Direction 1, no. 4 (October 1972): 106.
  17. Devon H. Wiens, “Biblical Criticism: Historical and Personal Reflections,” Direction 1, no. 4 (October 1972): 110.
  18. Contributors were Paul Hiebert, Marion Deckert, David Aune, and Dalton Reimer.
  19. A. J. Klassen, “The Bible in the Mennonite Brethren Church,” Direction 2, no. 2 (April 1973): 34–55. Klassen’s study of the contemporary MB use of the Bible was to have appeared in the July issue of that year but never materialized.
  20. His last article in Direction was “Deconstructing the Draft Revision of the MB Confession of Faith,” Direction 27, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 4–13.
  21. Katie Funk Wiebe, “Woman’s Freedom—The Church’s Necessity,” Direction 1, no. 3 (July 1972): 82–84; John Regehr, The Preaching Lab, v. 2, no. 3 (July 1973): 84–87; Luetta Reimer, “A Christian Response to the Women’s Liberation Movement,” v. 3, no. 1 (April 1974): 167–72; Hedy L. Martens, “God’s Word: To Women as to Men,” v. 5, no. 1 (January 1976): 11–26; Howard J. Loewen, “The Pauline View of Women,” v. 6, no. 4 (October 1977): 3–20; John Regehr, “Equal and Different: Listening Again to Genesis 1:26-2:25,” v. 8, no. 1 (January 1979): 34–36; Saundra Plett, “Attitudes Toward Women as Reflected in Mennonite Brethren Periodicals,” v. 9, no. 1 (January 1980): 13–24; Rebekah Burch Basinger, “What the Books Say: A Bibliographic Essay,” v. 9, no. 1 (January 1980): 36–40; Linda Gerbrandt, “My Experience as a Member of the Faith and Life Commission,” v. 9, no. 1 (January 1980): 11–12; Jean Janzen, “The Church Can Help Women Choose,” v. 9, no. 1 (January 1980): 3–6; John E. Toews, “The Role of Women in the Church: The Pauline Perspective,” v. 9, no. 1 (January 1980): 25–35; Katie Funk Wiebe, “Women in the Work of the Church,” v. 9, no. 1 (January 1980): 2; Esther Wiens, “When Men and Women Work Together in the Church,” v. 9, no. 1 (January 1980): 7–10. See also Phyllis Martens’s review of Woman Liberated, by Lois Gunden Clemens, Direction 1, no. 3 (July 1972): 101, and, in the same issue, Vern Ratzlaff’s review of The Ministry and the Ministry of Women, by Peter Brunner, 101–2.
  22. Funk Wiebe, “Woman’s Freedom,” 82–84.
  23. Funk Wiebe, 84.
  24. Hedy L. Martens, “God’s Word: To Women as to Men,” Direction 5, no. 1 (January 1976): 11–26.
  25. Martens, 13.
  26. For a longer account of the reception of Martens’s article, see Doug Heidebrecht’s Women in Ministry Leadership: The Journey of the Mennonite Brethren, 1954-2010 (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2019), 91-93.
  27. Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 210. {162}
  28. Howard John Loewen, “Biblical Infallibility: An Examination of Lindsell’s Thesis,” Direction 6, no. 2 (April 1977): 13.
  29. David Ewert, review of The Battle for the Bible, by Harold Lindsell, Direction 6, no. 2 (April 1977): 39.
  30. Harold Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 67.
  31. John E. Toews, “Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary and the Battle for the Bible 1977-1982,” Direction 42, no. Fall (2013): 229–50.
  32. Delbert Wiens argues that even the re-baptism debates reveal a deep anxiety among MBs regarding their uniqueness. Wiens, “Immersion and the Mennonite Brethren Identity Crisis,” Direction 14, no. 1 (Spring 1985): 14–25.
  33. J. Howard Kauffman and Leland Harder, Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: A Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1975).
  34. Paul Toews, “Ellipses . . . in J B: The Autobiography of a Twentieth-Century Mennonite Pilgrim,” Direction 26, no. 2 (Fall 1997): 9.
  35. Henry J. Schmidt, letter sent to “All Mennonite Brethren Pastors in the United States,” December 1, 1985, in my (VF) possession.
  36. John H. Redekop, A People Apart: Ethnicity and the Mennonite Brethren (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Press, 1987).
  37. John H. Redekop, “Ethnicity and the Mennonite Brethren: Issues and Responses,” Direction 17, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 9.
  38. Among Wiens’s most challenging Direction articles are “From the Village to the City (A Grammar for the Languages We Are),” Direction 2, no. 4 (October 1973): 98–149; “Mores, Morals, Morale and Hard Cases or ‘Whatever Happened to Consensus,’ ” v. 9, no. 2 (April 1980): 3–17; “Immersion and the Mennonite Brethren Identity Crisis,” v. 14, no. 1 (Spring 1985): 14–25; and “The Moralities of the Mennonite Brethren,” v. 16, no. 2 (Fall 1987): 29–44.
  39. Delbert L. Wiens, “Theological Response to Ethnicity in the Modern World,” Direction 17, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 113.
  40. Ed Boschman, “Women’s Role in Ministry in the Church,” Direction 18, no. 2 (Fall 1989): 49.
  41. Timothy J. Geddert, “The Ministry of Women: A Proposal for Mennonite Brethren,” Direction 18, no. 2 (Fall 1989): 54–71.
  42. Geddert, 70.
  43. Harry Heidebrecht and Gerald C. Ediger, “Findings: The Nature and Ministry of the Church (Study Conference, Normal, Illinois),” Direction 18, no. 2 (Fall 1989): 76.
  44. John H. Lohrenz and Abe J. Dueck, “General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches,” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, December 2009,
  45. John E. Toews, “Paul’s Radical Vision for the Family,” Direction 19, no. 1 (Spring 1990): 37.
  46. Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen, “Jesus and Women in the Gospel of John,” {163} Direction 19, no. 2 (Fall 1990): 63.
  47. Thiessen, 63.
  48. For details of this development, see Heidebrecht, Women in Ministry Leadership.
  49. MBBS was absorbed into Fresno Pacific University in 2010 and re-named Fresno Pacific University Biblical Seminary (sometimes called Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary). In Canada, support for MBBC among provincial MB conferences dwindled to the point where in 1998 “Concord College” (its new name) became the responsibility of the Manitoba Conference alone. Two years later the college merged with Canadian Mennonite Bible College (General Mennonite Conference) to become Canadian Mennonite University.
  50. John H. Lohrenz and Abe J. Dueck. “General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches,” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, December 2009,
  51. The Seminary’s Canadian satellite campus in Langley, BC, continued after the bi-national Conference’s dissolution as a Canadian Conference seminary and for a time had a program delivery site at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg.
  52. J. B. Toews (1906-1998), David Ewert (1922-2010), John Regehr (1925-2019), Allen Guenther (1938-2009), Paul Toews (1940-2015), Elmer A. Martens (1930-2016), Katie Funk Wiebe (1924-2016), Walter Unger (1936-2018), Devon H. Wiens (1936-2018).
  53. Elmer A. Martens, “Anniversary Reminiscences about Direction,” Direction 26, no. 1 (Spring 1997): 5.
  54. Ratzlaff was an editor from 1972 to 1974.
  55. Douglas B. Miller, “Teaching the Bible: Paradigms for the Christian College,” Direction 24, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 98–103.
  56. Also known as an email discussion group and, less accurately, as a LISTSERV.
  57. Douglas B. Miller, “Looking Back toward the Future,” From the Editor, Direction 26, no. 1 (Spring 1997): 2-3.
  58. Marshall Janzen designed the website in consultation with editor, Douglas Miller.
  59. Only one review was focused specifically on 9/11. See Vic Froese, review of Where Was God on September 11? Seeds of Faith and Hope, edited by Donald B. Kraybill and Linda Gehman Peachey, Direction 31, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 235–37.
  60. See Miller’s editorial in the Fall 2003 issue.
  61. Douglas B. Miller, ed., Baptism and Church Membership, Direction 33, no. 1 (Spring 2004). “Rite and Pilgrimage: Baptism and Membership Study Conference” took place May 22-24, 2003, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
  62. Erwin Klassen’s “Grave Robber: Spirituality and the Art of Theft,” Direction 34, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 64-70, is the exception.
  63. Vange Willms Thiessen, “The Great Work to Be Born: Spiritual Formation {164} for Leaders,” Direction 34, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 62.
  64. Only one article on the subject has appeared: Gerrit Wiebe’s informative 2019 study of the revision process in “Article 13 of the USMB Confession of Faith: A Study of Confessional Revision,” Direction 48, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 102–19.
  65. See Doug Heidebrecht’s evaluation of the ICOMB Confession of Faith in “Shared Global Mennonite Brethren Convictions: Reflections on the ICOMB Confession of Faith,” Direction 48, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 149–60.
  66. See Ingrid Reichard’s account of the origin of the study conference in “The Context of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conversation on Biblical Hermeneutics,” Direction 49, no. 2 (Fall 2020): 194–99.
  67. Further on this point, see Richard G. Kyle, “Mennonite Brethren and the Next Church,” Direction 34, no. 2 (Fall 2005): 133–44.
  68. John Longhurst, “Study: It’s Easier to Be a ‘None’ in Canada than in the US,” Religion News Service (blog), May 21, 2019,
Vic Froese is Direction’s general editor. He is also the Library Director at Canadian Mennonite University where he has served for twenty-one years. He is a member of the Steinbach Mennonite Brethren Church.

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