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Spring 2022 · Vol. 51 No. 1 · pp. 4–21 

Before Direction: A Brief History of The Voice and The Journal of Church and Society

Vic Froese

In 1944, as the Second World War neared its end, the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (CCMBC) established the Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC) in Winnipeg. The purpose of the College was to provide theological education and practical training for Mennonite Brethren (MB) missionaries, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and other church workers. MBBC got an initial boost from A. H. Unruh (1878-1961), the popular founder, teacher, and principal of Winkler Bible Institute in Winkler, Manitoba. He was also moderator of the Canadian Conference of MB Churches numerous times, and a much-sought-after preacher. The sixty-six-year-old Unruh was MBBC’s first president. He already knew, however, that his command of English was inadequate for the role; he would be resigning after one year in office.

J. B. Toews (1906-1998), already recognized as an up-and-coming leader in the North American MB Church, 1 stepped into the president’s role in 1945. One of his first initiatives was to create a newsletter, The Harbinger. It was distributed to MBBC supporters to keep them apprised of College happenings but also included spiritual reflections and exhortations, many written by Toews himself. Students Walter Wiebe and Katie Funk (later, Katie Funk Wiebe) were contributing editors for the short-lived publication.

After one year, The Harbinger was superseded by a heftier newsletter, The Olive Leaf. Its production was overseen by a faculty member, but student volunteers did much of the work of preparing the newsletter, which included writing articles. A typical issue consisted of an editorial, a testimonial from a current or recently graduated student, reports from alumni, a calendar of events, and an occasional short article on a biblical or theological topic. The Olive Leaf was read by MBBC supporters, prospective students (and their parents), and a growing number of alumni. {5}

The publication continued under the leadership of Henry H. Janzen (1901-75), who took Toews’s place as president in 1948. Halfway through Janzen’s eight-year tenure, The Olive Leaf was unseated from its position as the College’s main publication by The Voice of the Mennonite Brethren Bible College. When its first issue was published in January 1952, the new journal was immediately declared “the official organ of the College.” 2

The Voice was not the product of an administrator’s brain wave. MBBC faculty, no doubt encouraged by A. H. Unruh, 3 had for several years considered the idea of a more scholarly journal, one “devoted especially to the task of meeting certain needs existing within our Conference.” Its content would consist of “devotional, expositional, doctrinal, denominational, and other articles of more lasting value.” Its anticipated audience would be “ministers, deacons, Sunday School workers, choir directors, teachers, youth leaders, parents, and Christians generally.” 4 Unlike The Olive Leaf, which associate editor Hugo Jantz admitted had sometimes “brought grief to deeper thinkers . . . who read their [i.e., student writers’] lines and discerned the imperfections,” 5 The Voice would provide its readers with doctrinally sound articles written more often than not by MBBC faculty.

The focus on the orthodoxy of its teaching was underscored by the journal’s mission statement:

The Voice is the publication of the Mennonite Brethren Bible College, published bi-monthly in the interest of sound Christian teaching, and setting forth the doctrinal position of the institution. 6

The “doctrinal position” of MBBC would be perfectly aligned with the MB Church’s. It could hardly veer into heterodoxy when many of the MBBC instructors and senior administrators who wrote for the journal also served multiple terms as moderators or assistant moderators of the Canadian Conference or as members of the bi-national Board of Reference and Counsel (BORAC). They included A. H. Unruh, Henry H. Janzen, J. A. Toews, F. C. Peters, David Ewert, Jacob H. Quiring, and Henry H. Voth. 7 All were regular writers for The Voice at some point in their careers, and—in the cases of Quiring, Ewert, and Voth—editors. Thus, many topics addressed in the journal emerged from a Conference leadership that often consisted of MBBC faculty.

NEEDS WITHIN THE CONFERENCE

The “certain needs existing within our Conference” in the middle of the twentieth century were serious enough. The Mennonite Brethren who led the Conference and founded MBBC were frequently Russländer—German-speaking Russian Mennonites who fled famine, disease, anarchy, {6} and civil war in post-revolutionary Russia. They arrived in Canada in the 1920s and soon faced the economic turmoil of the Great Depression in the 1930s and suspicion from Canadians during World War 2, who doubted the loyalty of the German-speakers. But between 1945 and 1960, the dangers they faced were not lethal. Post-war urbanization, affluence, interdenominationalism, theological pluralism, secularism, and the increasingly rapid fading of the German language (the language of worship and teaching) in favor of English threatened the future of the Canadian MB Church. 8 Or so many believed.

Writers for The Voice were aware of the dangers and knew that vigilance was required to keep them from harming the church. Many articles in the journal dealt directly with these threats, but others addressed them indirectly. One example of the latter is “Die Wehrlosigkeit im Alten Testament in Lehre und Leben [Nonresistance in the Old Testament in Doctrine and Life].” 9 From one perspective, the article simply extends the New Testament basis of nonresistance into the Old Testament. But from another, it counters the Calvinist-Reformed argument that a Christian may bear arms in self-defense because doing so was justified by the Old Testament. MB young people were exposed to such ideas at the “interdenominational” Bible schools where many chose to study. 10 “Die Wehrlosigkeit” offered counterarguments to help MB students and adults alike defend a key Mennonite doctrine and resist the allure of an overwhelmingly non-pacifist North American evangelicalism.

The growing preference among MBs for speaking English rather than German added to a sense of crisis. It was believed by many that once church members forsook German, the old German piety would soon wither, and the close ties between older and younger generations would weaken. Loyalty to the MB Church would surely be a casualty since the growing preference for English would make non-Mennonite churches in which only English was spoken a tempting option. These opinions were widely held. Even A. H. Unruh, who was less convinced than many that German was essential to the MB Church’s survival, was an active member of the “Committee for the German Language,” the goal of which was to promote German among Mennonite Brethren. 11 The MBBC board took a stronger position. It was certain that ministry in German must be a permanent feature of the MB Church and put significant pressure on the College to ensure that its graduates were fluent in the language. 12 The Voice reflected that pressure by publishing a significant number of German articles. In the inaugural issue of The Voice, the editorial was in German, as were four of its seven articles. Only in the mid-1960s did the journal cease publishing German items altogether. 13 {7}

For others in the MB Church, the greater worry was secularism. This was a more insidious threat because it came in many pleasing forms and from multiple directions. David Ewert made this argument in his two-part article, “The Dangers of Secularism.” 14 Published in 1954, the article maintained that secularism had already made deep inroads into the hearts and minds of North American MBs. Supported by post-war prosperity, secularism drew the attention and energy of MBs toward well-paying jobs that could get them shiny new cars, bigger homes, and nicer clothes. Leisure time spent chasing amusements, attending sporting events, and pursuing cultural sophistication were all, in his opinion, manifestations of secularization. 15 The emerging belief among some that the church should help solve the world’s economic, social, and political problems likewise betrayed the influence of secular thinking on Mennonite Brethren. 16

But standing up to the powerful forces that threatened the MB Church involved more than a direct assault on them. For John A. Toews (a.k.a., J. A. Toews), 17 it meant returning to the Anabaptist roots that had nurtured the original Mennonites and inspired the earliest Mennonite Brethren. J. A. Toews taught at MBBC from 1947 to 1967 (serving as president for seven of those years [1956-1963]) and returned to teach again from 1976 to 1979. He has been described as “the most effective interpreter and spokesman for the Anabaptist vision in the Mennonite Brethren Church in his generation.” 18 He was also a frequent contributor to The Voice. His first article was titled, “The Early Anabaptist Mennonite View Concerning the Nature of the Church.” 19 Published in the journal’s first year, it summarized themes Toews studied in his earlier, similarly titled BDiv thesis, “The Anabaptist Concept of the Church.” 20 The difference between Anabaptists and Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin lay not in their understanding of the “cardinal points of Christian theology,” says Toews, but in their understanding of the nature of the church. Anabaptists stressed that the church is (in the words of Menno Simons) “an assembly of the pious and a community of the saints.” 21 It is a fellowship of true believers who practice discipleship, true brotherly love, and church discipline. Faith will always express itself in the “mere externals” of right behavior and deeds of charity. A church with a clear understanding of its Anabaptist identity (Toews might have said) would be able to resist the enticements of the secular and the attractions of evangelical churches because these could not hold a candle to the Anabaptist vision of a pure church. 22

As important as the recovery of Anabaptism was to many contributors to The Voice, the journal published much else besides articles on Anabaptism. The journal’s editors recognized that immersion in biblical truths, a deeper theological understanding, encouragement to support mission and local evangelism, and examining complex issues from a Christian perspective {8} could edify MB readers and bolster their faith in Christ and commitment to the MB Church. Thus, expository and theological articles, reflections on practical Christian living and denominational issues, reports on overseas missions and evangelism, discussions of Christian education and music, reviews of Christian books, 23 and (later) sermon outlines and homiletical guidance 24 were regular features of the journal. The Voice welcomed reflections on Anabaptism, but it was not narrowly focused on that topic even as it grew in importance.

APPROACHING THE END

The mission of The Voice remained largely unchanged over the life of its operation. It was there to circulate sound Christian teaching, set forth MBBC’s doctrinal position, and serve the needs of the Canadian MB Church. Likewise unchanged was the journal’s tight production schedule (a new issue was published every two months) and reliance on a small pool of faculty writers with heavy teaching loads. But in 1968, under editor Henry H. Voth, two significant changes were announced. The first dealt with the frequency and substance of the journal. In order to deal with unspecified “circumstances,” issues of The Voice would now appear only quarterly rather than bi-monthly as it had from its beginning. But to compensate for publishing less frequently, its articles would be longer and more substantial. Each issue would include a regular column on sermon preparation. Reviews—sometimes extensive reviews—of “especially significant books” would be published. Moreover, while scholarliness would typify all articles and reviews, the writing itself would be “non-technical and easily readable.” 25

The second change was announced in the immediately following issue (June/July 1969), the first to be published under the editorship of President Victor Adrian. The new Voice mission statement now read:

The Voice is a publication of the Mennonite Brethren Bible College. The M.B.B.C. was founded in 1944 as a school for pastors, missionaries, men and women interested in church-related ministries, and Christian laymen, in order to assist the church to be an evangelical witness in Canada and abroad. It seeks to combine theology and arts in order to serve the needs of a broad spectrum of the church. 26

Gone are references to “sound Christian teaching” and “the doctrinal position of the institution.” The new statement establishes the role of the journal in the original purposes for which the College was founded: to educate those involved (or hoping to be involved) in church ministries and mission and to help the church in its witness to the world. Also new {9} is the idea of “combining theology and arts” to meet the needs of a wide variety of church members.

Adrian’s editorial in the same issue provides details regarding what readers could expect to see in future issues:

. . . [W]e will henceforth feature “Guest Articles” written by competent men who are active Christians in various professions in our society. . . .

Besides treating contemporary issues, we plan to have major articles on Biblical-theological subjects and on the church in history. Others will deal with literature and music or the Christian and the arts. 27

As if anticipating the question of how the arts could assist the church in its mission to the world, Adrian explained that Christians need to “understand the mood and thought of modern man—to whom the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be communicated.” 28 The insights that the arts could impart would help Christians to share the gospel more effectively with “modern man,” who increasingly sees himself as “disillusioned, despairing, aimless, and inherently evil, inhabiting a hostile universe.” 29 On the other hand, inviting Christian professionals to write about living out their faith in a secular setting could help Christians outside a ministry situation reflect on their work life and consider how faith might shape their own practice there.

Despite Adrian’s expectation that The Voice would include articles on literature, music, and the arts, he was not in favor of turning MBBC into a liberal arts college. Enrolment in the few arts courses offered by the College was weak. The higher enrolment numbers needed to make the College sustainable, he believed, were directly linked to the relevance of its educational program to church ministries. 30 But many MBBC faculty took issue with Adrian’s argument. Seeing an increasing number of college-age MB students opting for liberal arts degrees from public universities, many faculty believed that only as a liberal arts college could MBBC attract more MB students. The disagreement caused much tension between faculty and the president. 31

In the meantime, CCMBC support for the College was flagging and enrollment was declining, which exacerbated the anxiety. CCMBC was no longer the Conference of 1952 whose needs MBBC faculty hoped to address in The Voice. For various reasons, support for MBBC among members of the Conference was not unanimous. 32 MBBC’s perception that its interests no longer aligned with the increasingly splintered interests of the Canadian Conference may well have contributed to its decision to let go of The Voice. Still, while a merger of the journal with the US MB {10} Journal of Church and Society would effectively bring an end to The Voice as a distinctly Canadian MB academic journal, some benefits would accrue to the College. The mental fatigue suffered by faculty writers and editors would be considerably relieved, and the College would realize savings at a time when its financial stability was precarious. Nevertheless, there must have been sadness too that the voice of an academic MB journal long devoted to the MB Church in Canada would no longer be heard.

THE JOURNAL OF CHURCH AND SOCIETY

The Journal of Church and Society (hereinafter, JCS or Journal) only published its first issue in 1965, which made it thirteen years younger than The Voice. It was born at a 1964 meeting convened by J. B. Toews, the former president of MBBC and now president of the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (MBBS) in Fresno, California. The meeting was held in Hillsboro, Kansas, at Tabor College, the oldest MB college in North America. In attendance were representatives of the research and publications committees of MBBS, Pacific College in Fresno (Mennonite Brethren), and Tabor College. When the meeting adjourned, the representatives had selected an editorial board consisting of J. B. Toews, Wesley J. Prieb (Tabor), and Peter J. Klassen (Pacific). 33

The board immediately went to work to establish the journal by defining its mission and drafting operational policies. Its mission statement would describe JCS as “a journal devoted to the task of letting Christianity speak to the issues of our time.” 34 Articles accepted for publication would not necessarily reflect the “official position” of the MB Biblical Seminary, Tabor College, or Pacific College; rather, they would reflect the perspectives of their independent authors, who would be spared the responsibility of representing their schools’ doctrinal positions (as expected of early writers for The Voice). 35 Writers for JCS would therefore, in theory if not in practice, be free to engage in dialog more honestly and develop critiques more creatively. Furthermore, authors would not be asked to limit themselves to topics related to the Bible, theology, church history, or some aspect of ministry; they could speak from “any discipline, provided they were meaningful contributions to the task of letting the church speak to the problems of our society.” 36

In contrast to The Voice, which was entirely a ministry of MBBC, the JCS was always a collaborative effort of the three US MB institutions of higher learning. Its first editorial team, of course, also wished to be of service to the church (and society). Desire for academic respectability, however, seems to have been a factor in the journal’s establishment. The journal was immediately more self-consciously academic than The Voice. JCS editors and writers were generally PhDs, and this was reflected in the {11} longer, well-documented, and carefully crafted articles that graced the journal’s pages. And having been established in the midst of the social upheaval and political protests of 1960s, it was also driven by the hope that it could be a voice of social criticism and thereby contribute to a more just and more humane society.

ANABAPTISM

The timing of the launch of JCS roughly coincided with two important developments in US MB higher education. First was the development of a deeper appreciation of the Anabaptist roots of the MB Church. Harold Bender had published his seminal article “The Anabaptist Vision” in The Mennonite Quarterly Review in 1944, but twenty years later it had still made only a nominal impression on the teaching at Pacific College and MBBS. 37 The arrival of Peter J. Klassen and the appointment of J. B. Toews as president of MBBS (in 1962 and 1964 respectively) introduced an important shift into the religious assumptions of Seminary faculty and Pacific College instructors. Klassen, a historian, would see his The Economics of Anabaptism, 1525-1560 published in 1964. 38 His passionate commitment to an Anabaptist understanding of the Christian way would bleed into his five-year tenure as editor of the JCS.

J. B. Toews was the driving force behind the Seminary’s adoption of Anabaptist teachings and approach to biblical interpretation. 39 Before his appointment as MBBS president, Toews recognized that the Seminary was largely fundamentalist in its approach to faith, which included a dispensationalist interpretation of the Bible. (Toews had once referred to MBBS as a “mini-Dallas” on account of its dogmatic likeness to Dallas Theological Seminary.) 40 His conviction that the MB Church needed to return to its Anabaptist roots to recover the true meaning of following Christ had come to him some years earlier, when he was thirty-six years of age, 41 which was two years before the publication of Bender’s “Anabaptist Vision.” The conviction did not wane even at the end of his long life. 42 There is good reason to believe that Toews hoped JCS could be an instrument for spreading the Anabaptist gospel throughout the MB Church.

If the journal was not an effective instrument in this cause, it was not because it failed to publish articles dealing with Anabaptism. J. B. Toews’s first article in the JCS would be “The Church in Evangelism,” which demonstrated the deep compatibility between Anabaptism and evangelism. 43 A. J. Klassen surveyed Anabaptist-Mennonite confessions of faith for the spring 1966 issue. 44 Wesley Prieb contributed an article on the brotherhood character of the church heavily laced with references to Anabaptism. 45 Peter Klassen’s 1967 article examined the place of the Holy Spirit in Anabaptist thought, 46 and his 1969 article explored the relationship {12} of Zwingli to the Zurich Anabaptists. 47 Calvin Redekop’s 1968 article on the contribution Mennonites can make to a secular world bereft of true community draws on an Anabaptist understanding of the nature of the church. 48 The Journal did promote Anabaptism, but it appears not to have been distributed widely enough and its articles were not easily enough digested by laypersons to have a significant impact on the MB Church.

CRITIQUE AND CONSCIENCE

The launch of JCS also took place just a year before Pacific College adopted the “Fresno Pacific College Idea” (1966), when US campuses were rife with anti-war and civil rights protests and general countercultural sentiments. The “Idea,” a kind of mission statement that guided Pacific College’s subsequent development, 49 declared that the College had a prophetic role to play in American society: it was to be “a center of independent critique of all of man’s endeavors. . . . [serving] as the conscience of society and the church.” 50 JCS did not belong to Pacific College alone, but the policies outlined in the journal’s first editorial are consistent with the “FPC Idea.” The JCS mission was conceived as a prophetic one, serving society and the church by identifying their ethical and moral shortcomings.

That criticism of the church was permitted by the Journal seems to have been well understood. In the first issue of JCS, J. B. Toews took the church to task for its complacency: “The church has reached a status quo, and she is satisfied merely to maintain herself.” 51 In the second issue, author Rudy Wiebe (then at Goshen College) chastised a church unschooled in literature for condemning writers who “show man as he is,” which is an essential condition for “show[ing] what man by God’s grace may become.” 52 And Katie Funk Wiebe had harsh words for a church missionally disengaged from the playing field of life: “The performance of the church in writing the Gospel has been woefully inadequate. The church must get down off the bleachers on the grandstand and move into the arena.” 53

THE ISSUES OF OUR TIME

In view of the journal’s commitment to “letting Christianity speak to the issues of our time,” the four articles in its first issue, all academically solid, must have been a disappointment to their readers. The first article examined the theology of James Arminius (1560-1609); the second was an English translation of a German document on baptism by Jacob P. Becker (1828-1908); the third explored the centrality of evangelism to the church; and the lengthy last article—which included 121 eye-straining endnotes—investigated Billy James Hargis’s view of the American society and government. 54 The controversial Hargis might have qualified as an “issue of our time,” but social issues were otherwise not well represented. {13}

The fall 1965 issue was again weighted heavily toward topics related to Bible, history, and theology. A near exception was Rudy Wiebe’s “The Artist as Witness to and Critic of Society,” whose title may have raised hopes that broader social issues would be addressed. Wiebe, however, had his sights fixed on the church’s clumsy handling of works of literature. The spring 1966 issue printed articles on nurturing “enduring belief” in Christian students, confronting ecumenism, the biblical figure of Mark, and Anabaptist-Mennonite confessions of faith. But still no Christian analysis of a social issue or condemnation of some injustice.

The pattern would continue for much of the almost seven-year life of the journal, which published only a few articles that could meet expectations raised by its mission statement. Calvin Redekop’s “Christian Responsibility in a World of Change,” was one of these. 55 His article explained why loss of community, secularism, alienation, crisis of authority, and class divisions were serious problems in the West and doing grave harm to the general quality of life. Redekop, however, proposed that the vision of the Free Churches (which include Mennonites) embodied in actual communities held promise as a viable option, offering hope for fellowship, religion uncompromised by political ambition, mutuality, servanthood authority, and brotherhood.

War was a “social issue” of different kind, one that divided the US in the last decade of its twenty-year war in Vietnam. In “Mennonites, Poets and the Viet Nam War,” poet and academic, Elmer F. Suderman, wrote about widespread opposition to war by American poets and academics. His probing essay, which includes a number of poems, challenged Mennonites to live up to their reputation as pacifists and rejoice that “the strongest objections to war come . . . not from the church but from people we do not associate with traditional religion.” 56

Hans Kasdorf’s “Proclamation and Social Concern in Missions,” explicitly endorsed the integration of missions with social action, thus rejecting a focus on saving souls alone. “No form of proclamation is complete without social concern,” he said, and “no social concern without proclamation has lasting value.” 57 Although it corrected some older understandings of mission, the article is marred by its perpetuation of stereotypes of native peoples as marked by “filthy and degrading habits, abominable practices, unmentionable cruelties and crimes . . . The heathen are not only temporally unfortunate and morally depraved; they are also spiritually lost.” 58 These were precisely the biases that justified colonization by imperial powers in earlier centuries and, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the residential schools that did such damage to Indigenous peoples in Canada. {14}

Perhaps the best example of a discussion of a clearly identified social issue occurs not in an article but in the unsigned editorial from the spring 1969 issues titled, “The Tragedy of Noninvolvement.” 59 Peter Klassen, its likely author, 60 begins by recalling the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., one year earlier. “[I]t is not enough to mourn,” he writes, “for sorrow alone can never heal the sickness which afflicts so large a part of our society.” The “sickness” he refers to is racial discrimination. “It is imperative,” Klassen continues, “that we, concerned members of a living church, become involved in works of compassion.” Klassen quickly dispatches two common objections to the involvement of Christians in addressing social problems: (1) preaching the gospel will solve the problems, and (2) Christians must focus on “ultimate values,” not on temporal problems. On the contrary, says Klassen, “Our Lord proclaimed no truncated Gospel for the soul alone; His concern embraced the total man. . . . He opposed evil where He saw it; why do we do less?” Klassen concludes with sharp words of rebuke: “Our world needs Christianity in action, and only he who wishes to be blind will fail to find opportunity to express his devotion to Christ by living for, and suffering with, his brother.” 61

The general scarcity of JCS articles dealing with social problems should have been expected given that most writers for the journal (with a few exceptions) 62 held doctorates in humanities disciplines like biblical studies, history, literature, music, theology, anthropology, and philosophy. These typically involve careful analysis and interpretation of cultural, religious, and theological works, not empirical studies of contemporary social conflicts and their many related issues. The strengths of the Journal (Anabaptist/Mennonite history, Bible, theology) reflected Peter Klassen’s expertise but also meshed with the key item on the agenda of the Seminary—the education of North American MB pastors. Given the specialties of the faculty available to write for the journal, the JCS was never likely to be known for addressing “the issues of our time.” Indeed, the journal was not even successful at soliciting articles on theological “issues of our time.” Klassen’s editorial in spring 1966 invited a critical analysis of the “God is Dead” movement that caused such a stir in the 1960s. 63 The Journal never published such an article.

That the JCS mission statement was mostly ignored is confirmed by the “inter-institutional” issue of spring 1971. The issue was produced by MBBC and the US MB colleges and Seminary to test their readers’ receptivity to a jointly published MB academic journal to replace The Voice and the JCS. The theme chosen for this issue was not the Vietnam War, poverty, racism, or women’s liberation but Christian education. This made eminent sense since the education of MB young people or {15} pastors-to-be was the business of the major sponsors of the journals. And when it came time to draft a mission statement for Direction, no one should have been surprised that it substantially reproduced the mission statement of The Voice and almost entirely ignored that of the JCS. Good intentions notwithstanding, the latter’s mission statement was too ambitious in making the needs and problems of “society” the main object of its concern.

THE MERGER

The only published documentation of why discussions of a merger of The Voice with The Journal of Church and Society even took place is the foreword to the experimental “inter-institutional” issue of April 1971. 64 Authored by an ad hoc committee consisting of Abe Konrad (Tabor College), Elmer Martens (MBBS), Vern Ratzlaff (MBBC/College of Arts), and Delbert Wiens (Pacific College), the foreword offers several reasons for the going down that path. (1) MB Christian education “is focused most intensely in theological institutions [. . . and] this focus can best be expressed through one journal that will draw on the resources of those involved in this task.” (2) The Voice and the Journal have readerships and interests that have “in some ways” been similar; combining the two journals into one could give those readerships the best of both worlds. And (3) “a broader base of cooperation” is needed to involve as many MB faculty and students as possible. Four hundred students are enrolled annually in the three Canadian MB Bible institutes, and many others study at public universities. Having MB professors from non-MB universities cooperate with instructors from the Bible institutes to produce one academic journal would enrich what a single journal could offer.

What went unmentioned is that neither journal was sustainable in the long run under the conditions that then prevailed. Writers willing and qualified to write academic articles were generally also busy teaching. Hence, the editors’ frequent reliance on papers originally presented as speeches, sermons, or lectures. Moreover, some faculty preferred to write for The Christian Leader or The MB Herald. Both had a substantially larger readership than either The Voice or the JCS—and they paid authors for their work. And if they made a slightly controversial point, writers could count on seeing responses to their articles in short order, a rare occurrence in The Voice and the Journal. 65 Add to the mix that MBs teaching at universities were often under pressure to publish in peer-reviewed academic journals—which immediately excluded The Voice and the JCS from consideration—and the availability of qualified academic writers dwindled further.

Just as concerning was the small number of subscribers. The journals’ primary source of revenue was subscriptions. Without enough subscribers, {16} the cost of production would exceed the revenue earned. Most MB institutions were glad to cover the shortfall if less tangible benefits (like an increase in the reputation or public profile of a college or seminary) were evident. But when such benefits seem elusive, doubts could easily crop up and the question of alternative arrangements, like a merger, could become more than idle speculation.

The Voice and The Journal of Church and Society together represented twenty-seven years of Mennonite Brethren academic publishing. The Voice, as the “official organ” of a single academic institution but also committed to the Canadian Conference of MB Churches, succeeded reasonably well in those two roles. It did so by remembering that its readers were, by and large, MBBC supporters and by being less concerned with adding to a “body of knowledge” than with addressing urgent issues in the Canadian MB Church. Its editors and many of its writers were well educated but few had doctorates. The very least one can say is that The Voice documented well the efforts of some of the MB Church’s keenest minds to deal with church anxieties at a time of remarkably rapid change. It could be said that the journal met its end when it realized that by itself it just couldn’t keep up with the flurry of changes coming its way.

The Journal of Church and Society was less beholden to a conference and more animated by a desire to be relevant to the revolutionary spirit of the age. It hoped to play the role of social conscience to American society and develop social critiques that could lead to society’s betterment. Those hopes fell short of being realized, and the decision to join forces with The Voice might, in part, have been prompted by the recognition that, barring a radical change in circumstances, they would never advance much beyond that point.

THE END

After the April 1971 inter-institutional issue was released, two more issues of The Voice were published to finish out the subscription year. With that, two decades of academic publishing came to an end. Neither of the last two issues refers to the end of The Voice era. Nor is there mention of its four chief editors 66 whose commitment to the journal’s mission, dedication to quality, and stubborn work ethic kept the journal going. One is left with the impression that as the weary editorial team approached the finish line, it was all they could do just to complete those final two issues. It left them with no time or energy for reminiscing or recognizing past achievements. The Voice ended not exactly with a whimper but not with a bang either.

The decision to cease the publication of The Journal of Church and Society was likely made immediately after positive reviews of the inter-institutional issue came in, if not before. One last issue would have made it {17} an even seven years of publication and would have provided an opportunity to reflect on the past and recognize those who made the Journal what it was. 67 Apparently these reasons were not enough. The abrupt ending was perhaps understandable. Even a full seven years might not be a long enough run to make anyone sentimental about the journal’s demise. Some fine articles were published, both writers and editors gained valuable experience, and those who were faithful readers gained in knowledge and, maybe, wisdom for their journeys. There was no point in delaying the inevitable, however. It was time to move on.

For something new waited in the wings. It would be an opportunity to apply lessons learned, an opportunity to do again what was done in the past, only better. The Voice and The Journal of Church and Society had left a legacy Christian academic writing. It would be up to the next generation to decide what part of that legacy was worth keeping and carrying forward and what should be left behind in the foggy mist of the past.

NOTES

  1. Before his employment at MBBC, John Benjamin Toews (a.k.a. “J. B.” Toews) was educated at Tabor College, taught at Bethany Bible Institute, and pastored both US and Canadian MB churches. For more details see Kevin Enns-Rempel, “Toews, John B. ‘J. B.’ (1906-1998),” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, April 2010, https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Toews,_John_B._%22J._B.%22_(1906-1998).
  2. J. H. Quiring, the first editor of The Voice, explained, “As the official organ of the College, [The Voice] is to set forth “our position as a denominational, fundamental, and evangelical institution.” He quickly assured Olive Leaf readers that “The Voice represents a continuation of The Olive Leaf and must not be considered as its supplanter.” J. H. Quiring, “A Larger Publication [editorial],” The Voice 1, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 1952): 1.
  3. In 1934, when he was principal of Winkler Bible School, Unruh started a journal he called Die Antwort (The Answer). It lasted only two years but was much loved by the few who subscribed to it. At least one early reader of The Voice recognized the new journal as a successor to Die Antwort: “I have long looked for the resurrection of Die Antwort, and now I think I see it alive again” (my translation). Hermann Lenzmann in “Comments from Our Readers,” The Voice 1, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1952): 20.
  4. Quiring, “Larger Publication,” 1–2.
  5. Hugo Jantz, “The Olive Leaf,” editorial, The Voice 1, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 1952): 21.
  6. Masthead of The Voice 1, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 1952).
  7. A chronological list of members of the CCMBC executive can be found in J. H. Lohrenz and Harold Jantz, “Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches,” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, {18} November 2012.
  8. For thorough discussions of the challenges faced by North American Mennonite Brethren in the 1940s and ’50s, see Paul Toews, ed., Bridging Troubled Waters: Mennonite Brethren at Mid-Century (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Productions, 1995).
  9. J. A. Toews, “Die Wehrlosigkeit im Alten Testament in Lehre und Leben,” The Voice 1, no. 5 (Sept.-Oct. 1952): 5–7. “Wehrlosigkeit” is often rendered as defenselessness or, more commonly in Anabaptist/Mennonite circles, as nonresistance.
  10. In “Gefahren des Interdenominationalismus [Dangers of Interdenominationalism],” The Voice 3, no. 3 (May-June 1954): 11–14, J. A. Toews cites “Youth for Christ” and interdenominational Bible schools as sources of a growing acceptance of interdenominationalism among MB young people. He lists among its dangers the eclipse of a Mennonite ecclesiology; the over-simplification of doctrine; the rejection of church ordinances like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline; confusion in ethical principles regarding the relation of church to the state; and tolerance of worldly practices like drinking, smoking, going to the cinema, membership in secret societies, and divorce.
  11. Benjamin Wall Redekop, “The German Identity of Mennonite Brethren Immigrants in Canada, 1930-1960” (MA, University of British Columbia, 1990), 174. See pp. 179–83 for a discussion of A. H. Unruh’s thoughtful ambivalence toward the language he loved.
  12. This was one reason why J. B. Toews resigned from the presidency in 1948. J. B. Toews, J B: The Autobiography of a Twentieth Century Mennonite Pilgrim (Fresno, CA: Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1995), 136.
  13. The last German pieces to be published in The Voice appeared in vol. 15, no. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 1966): “Winde des Wechsels [Winds of Change],” by Harry Loewen; and a sermon by Cornelius Wall, “Absonderung dem Herrn zu einem Fruchtbaren Zeugnis [Being Set Apart for the Lord for a Fruitful Witness].”
  14. David Ewert, “The Dangers of Secularism [part 1],” The Voice 3, no. 5 (October 1954): 16–19; and “The Dangers of Secularism [part 2],” The Voice 3, no. 6 (December 1954): 17–20. The article is reprinted in this issue of Direction.
  15. Ewert, “Dangers [part 2],” 18–19. Below, pp. ??.
  16. Ewert, “Dangers [part 1],” 18. Below, p. ?.
  17. Cousin to J. B. Toews, the former MBBC president.
  18. Abe J. Dueck and Richard D. Thiessen, “Toews, John A. (1912-1979),” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, December 2005, https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Toews,_John_A._(1912-1979).
  19. John A. Toews, “The Early Anabaptist-Mennonite View concerning the Nature of the Church,” The Voice 1, no. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 1952): 10-12.
  20. J. A. Toews, “The Anabaptist Concept of the Church” (Thesis, United College, University of Winnipeg, 1950).
  21. J. A. Toews, “Early Anabaptist-Mennonite View,” 11.
  22. Anabaptism became a unifying thread of J. A. Toews’s A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church: Pilgrims and Pioneers, ed. A. J. Klassen (Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite {19} Brethren Churches, 1975). For critical discussions of the book, see Paul Toews, ed., Pilgrims and Strangers: Essays in Mennonite Brethren History (Fresno, CA: Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, 1977).
  23. Book reviews began with the addition of the “Christian Worker’s Library” section to The Voice in 1955. Herb Giesbrecht, long-time MBBC librarian and teacher of English literature, would play a major role in its development into a full-fledged book review section.
  24. These appeared in The Voice from 1961 to 1963 under the “Preaching” heading, which in 1964 was replaced with a “Sermons” section. In 1969, MBBC professor John Regehr began “The Preaching Lab,” a column he continued to write in Direction up to the July 1975 issue.
  25. H. H. Voth, “A Special Issue [editorial],” The Voice 17, no. 6 (Dec. 1968): 1.
  26. Masthead of The Voice 18, no. 1 (June-July 1969).
  27. Victor Adrian, “Editorial Comments,” The Voice 18, no. 1 (June-July 1969): 1.
  28. Adrian, “Editorial Comments,” 1.
  29. Adrian, “Editorial Comments,” 2.
  30. Abe J. Dueck, “Mennonite Brethren Bible College: Competing Visions for Mennonite Brethren Education in Canada,” Direction 46, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 40–56. More details are provided in Dueck’s recent book, Mennonite Brethren Bible College: A History of Competing Visions (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred Productions, 2021), 84.
  31. Dueck, History of Competing Visions, 85.
  32. The issues are discussed in Dueck, History of Competing Visions, 77.
  33. Peter J. Klassen, “Editorial: Invitation to Involvement,” The Journal of Church and Society 1, no. 1 (Spring 1965): 2.
  34. I wish to express my gratitude to Kevin Enns Rempel at Fresno Pacific University for locating this information for me.
  35. Klassen, “Invitation to Involvement,” 2.
  36. Klassen, “Invitation to Involvement,” 2.
  37. Peter J. Klassen: “[W]hen I came to Pacific College and the seminary in 1962, very little attention was paid to Anabaptism.” “Anabaptism, Peacemaking, and the Study of History: Peter J. Klassen Reflects on His Life and Career,” interview by Hope Nisly, California Mennonite Historical Society Bulletin 50 (Fall 2009): 7.
  38. Peter J. Klassen, The Economics of Anabaptism, 1525-1560, Studies in European History, 3 (The Hague: Mouton, 1964).
  39. Ken Reddig, “John B. Toews (1906-1998): Church Statesman,” Profiles of Mennonite Faith, no. 36 (Winter 2007), https://mbhistory.org/profiles/toews/.
  40. Paul Toews, “Ellipses . . . in J B: The Autobiography of a Twentieth-Century Mennonite Pilgrim,” Direction 26, no. 2 (Fall 1997): 7.
  41. J. B. Toews, J B, 2.
  42. In his 1995 autobiography, the eighty-nine-year-old J. B. Toews still spoke in glowing terms of Anabaptists who “sought to be people of unflagging faithfulness to Jesus Christ.” Toews, J B, 3.
  43. John B. Toews, “The Church in Evangelism,” JCS 1, no. 1 (Spring 1965): 33–42. {20}
  44. A. J. Klassen, “Anabaptist-Mennonite Confessions of Faith: A General Survey,” JCS 2, no. 1 (Spring 1966): 47–64d.
  45. Wesley J. Prieb, “The Church as a Brotherhood,” JCS 2, no. 2 (Fall 1966): 37–45.
  46. Peter J. Klassen, “The Anabaptist View of the Holy Spirit,” JCS 3, no. 1 (Spring 1967): 53–61.
  47. Peter J. Klassen, “Zwingli and the Zurich Anabaptists,” JCS 5, no. 2 (Fall 1969): 18–29.
  48. Calvin W. Redekop, “Christian Responsibility in a World of Change,” JCS 4, no. 1 (Spring 1968): 2–6. This article is reprinted below.
  49. For the text of this statement and its later revisions, see the appendix to Mennonite Idealism and Higher Education: The Story of the Fresno Pacific College Idea, ed. Paul Toews (Fresno, CA: Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1995).
  50. Paul Toews, Mennonite Idealism, 158.
  51. J. B. Toews, “The Church in Evangelism,” 23.
  52. Rudy Wiebe, “The Artist as Witness to and Critic of Society,” JCS 1, no. 2 (Fall 1965): 56. This article is reprinted below.
  53. Katie Funk Wiebe, “Christian Journalism for Today,” JCS 3, no. 1 (Spring 1967): 25. This article is reprinted below.
  54. John Redekop, “Billy James Hargis’ Perception of the American Constitution, Government, and Society,” JCS 1, no. 1 (Spring 1965): 43–64. Hargis (1925-2004) was a popular, fiercely anti-communist American radio and TV evangelist who reached the zenith of his career during the 1950s and ’60s.
  55. Redekop, “Christian Responsibility in a World of Change,” JCS 4, no. 1 (Spring 1968): 2–6.
  56. Elmer F. Suderman, “Mennonites, Poets and the Viet Nam War,” JCS 5, no. 1 (Spring 1969): 16.
  57. Hans Kasdorf, “Proclamation and Social Concern in Missions,” JCS 5, no. 1 (Spring 1969): 31.
  58. Kasdorf, 25; quoting with approval Robert Hall Glover’s statements in Progress of World-Wide Missions, rev. ed. (New York: Harper, 1939), 23.
  59. Peter Klassen “The Tragedy of Noninvolvement [editorial],” JCS 5, no. 1 (Spring 1969): 2–3.
  60. Peter Klassen was general editor of the Journal for Church and Society from 1965 to spring 1970.
  61. Klassen, “Tragedy of Noninvolvement,” 3.
  62. The exceptions are Dalton Reimer (communication); Clarence E. Harms (biologist); Calvin Redekop, (sociologist); Roy Just (sociologist).
  63. Peter Klassen, “ ‘God is Dead’ Movement [editorial],” JCS 2, no. 1 (Spring 1966): 2.
  64. Foreword, The Voice 20, no. 2 (April 1971): 1; also, Foreword, JCS 7, no. 1 (April 1971): 1. Other quotations from this paragraph are taken from this page.
  65. Delbert Wiens, for example, contributed twenty articles to The Christian Leader in his lifetime. Other non-academic periodicals in which he was published include Canadian Mennonite, Mennonite Weekly Review, MB Herald, Mission Focus, and Other Side. {21}
  66. J. H. Quiring (1952-55), David Ewert (1955-65), Henry Voth (1965-68), and Victor Adrian (1969-71).
  67. The general editors of The Journal of Church and Society were Peter J. Klassen (1965-70) and Elmer Martens (1970-71). Associate editors were J. B. Toews (1965-70), Wesley J. Prieb (1965-66), Abram G. Konrad (1966-71), and Delbert Wiens (1970-71).

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