By Walter Fenton
“Several of us had been talking about doing something like this for years…. One day we just decided to do it. Matt Reynolds, Founder and President of Spirit & Truth, began to build the website and shortly thereafter Maggie Ulmer (from Plain Truth: A Holy-Spirited Podcast) began to pitch in” said Dr. David Watson about Firebrand, a new online magazine created primarily for Christians in the Wesleyan tradition. It launched on June 1, 2020, with Watson’s inaugural article, Why Firebrand?.
Watson, the magazine’s Lead Editor as well as Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, indicated that John Wesley served as an inspiration. He characterized Wesley as “a devout mind wrestling seriously with theological questions, but always toward the end of salvation.”
The magazine takes its name from Wesley’s famous account of his rescue from a burning house when he was a child. Borrowing from the Old Testament prophet Zechariah, Wesley said he was, “a brand plucked from the fire.” Watson also added that “a ‘firebrand’ is a person who is passionate about a cause and isn’t afraid to stir things up. We want to evoke passionate, informed, and well-reasoned conversation about our Wesleyan faith and deal with difficult, even controversial, questions head on.”
The initial collection of articles does cover a wide range of issues. Among at least a dozen others, the Rev. Meshach Kanyion, Senior Pastor at Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, contributed “Abraham, Abimelech, and Ahmaud Arbery;” the Rev. Forbes Matonga, a pastor in the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference of the UM Church, offered “The UMC in Africa: A Vision for the Future;” and Dr. Jason Vickers, Professor of Theology at Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote, “The Devil is in the Details: On Hell and other Doctrines for a Future Methodist Church.”
“We want to provide… a venue for virtuous public conversations about matters of theology and praxis, all in relation to the historic doctrines and practices of the body of Christ, and particularly the Wesleyan tradition,” said Watson. And as it does this, he said the magazine would affirm four core values: the authority of Scripture, the Nicene-Chalcedonian faith, the Wesleyan tradition, and the cultivation of intellectual virtue.
Dr. Suzanne Nicholson will serve as Assistant Lead Editor and Ulmer will serve as Managing Editor. Nicholson is Professor of Biblical Studies at Malone University in Canton, Ohio, although she will soon be taking a new post at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. In addition to her work with Plain Truth, Ulmer serves on the Board of Directors for Spirit & Truth.
“With God’s help,” said Watson, “we brought together an incredible editorial board from a variety of traditions, including The United Methodist Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church-Zion, the Wesleyan Church, the Free Methodist Church, the Vineyard, and Pentecostalism.”
Many of the magazine’s initial articles were written by board members. The Rev. Jessica Lagrone, Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote, “Creation and Coronavirus: In Him All Things Hold Together;” Dr. Doug Koskela, Professor of Theology and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Seattle Pacific University, submitted “Nothing New to Say?;” and the Rev. Dr. Andrew Thompson, Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Springdale, Arkansas, added, “The Wesleyan Witness on Race.”
Asked why laity and clergy should read Firebrand, Watson responded: “Whether we’re talking about matters of race, sex and gender, the beginning and end of life, politics, money, or some other topic, we need to do so first and foremost as people of faith. Our tradition offers incredible resources for thinking through hard issues, and my hope is that Firebrand will help us to think in public as Wesleyan Christians.”
If the first month worth of articles are an indication of what is to come, Firebrand will stretch and challenge its readers. From time-to-time it will send us scurrying to our theological dictionaries to look up a new word or idea. We will find ourselves copying links to it articles to share them with our friends and colleagues. And its essays will spark lively and important conversations in Sunday school classes, small group meetings, and at Bible studies.
More importantly, Firebrand will push us to think more deeply about our faith, help us become better at sharing it with others in winsome and grace filled ways, and as the editorial team hopes, it will help us come “to know, love, and serve the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent.”
The Rev. Walter Fenton is Vice President for Strategic Engagement for the Wesleyan Covenant Association and is an elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.