This classic four-volume set, edited by R. A. Torrey, is a defense of historic Christianity that helped define conservative Protestant Christianity throughout the last century. 90 articles by leading Christian scholars outline classic doctrines contra the rising liberalism and skepticism of their day. Authors include: B. B. Warfield, C. I. Scofield, G. Campbell Morgan, Bishop Ryle, H. C. G. Moule, James Orr, and others.
This series of essays was originally published and distributed to thousands of Christian workers free of charge through the generosity of two donors. Essays address important topics such as biblical inspiration and inerrancy, higher criticism, mosaic authorship of the pentateuch, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, Mormonism, evolutionism, and basic doctrines such as sin, atonement, justification, and grace. These topics and doctrines are just as important today as they were in 1915!
Many of these essays played a vital role in “drawing a line in the sand” for both the evangelical and fundamentalist movements throughout the twentieth century. The Dictionary of Christianity in America points to The Fundamentals as a key rallying point among those who wished to defend orthodox Protestant Christianity against various modernist challenges:
In 1909, two wealthy oil men donated money for the publication of 12 volumes of essays that would outline the fundamentals or essentials of the Christian faith. Over the next six years, the articles were published and 3.6 million volumes were printed and mailed free of charge to more than 300,000 Christian workers all over the world. After the stock was depleted, the printing plates were turned over to the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, which reprinted the set in four volumes “at the cheapest price possible.”
“It has become identified with a system of criticism which is based on hypotheses and suppositions which have for their object the repudiation of the traditional theory, and has investigated the origins and forms and styles and contents, apparently not to confirm the authenticity and credibility and reliability of the Scriptures, but to discredit in most cases their genuineness, to discover discrepancies, and throw doubt upon their authority.” (Volume 1, Page 14)
“Some of the men who have been most distinguished as the leaders of the Higher Critical movement in Germany and Holland have been men who have no faith in the God of the Bible, and no faith in either the necessity or the possibility of a personal supernatural revelation.” (Volume 1, Page 13)
“Astruc may be called the father of the documentary theories.” (Volume 1, Page 16)
“The Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch has until very recent times been accepted without question by both Jews and Christians. Such acceptance, coming down to us in unbroken line from the earliest times of which we have any information, gives it the support of what is called general consent, which, while perhaps not absolutely conclusive, compels those who would discredit it to produce incontrovertible opposing evidence. But the evidence which the critics produce in this case is wholly circumstantial, consisting of inferences derived from a literary analysis of the documents and from the application of a discredited evolutionary theory concerning the development of human institutions.” (Volume 1, Pages 43–44)
“But we can say, on the one hand, that inasmuch as they refused to recognize the Bible as a direct revelation from God, they were free to form hypotheses ad libitum. And, on the other hand, as they denied the supernatural, the animus that animated them in the construction of the hypotheses was the desire to construct a theory that would explain away the supernatural. Unbelief was the antecedent, not the consequent, of their criticism.” (Volume 1, Page 21)
“During this period conservative evangelicals continued to consolidate by identifying the issues around which they were willing to do battle, articulating a core of non-negotiable beliefs and developing a stronger sense of mutual identity. Scores of conservative evangelicals from America and Europe contributed to...The Fundamentals...in order to identify and overcome what was wrong with modern religion and society...For the most part The Fundamentals were scholarly, well-reasoned, carefully nuanced and polite.”
(excerpted from Dictionary of Christianity in America)
...The Fundamentals, usually regarded as a signal of the beginning of the organized fundamentalist movement, was one of the sources for the movement’s name...The authors of the essays were mostly respected Bible teachers. A few were widely recognized conservative Protestant scholars, such as Benjamin B. Warfield and James Orr of Scotland. Not all the authors were dispensationalist. Rather, they were chosen to present a united conservative “testimony to the truth” (as the subtitle to the volumes put it).
Of the ninety articles bound in twelve volumes (bearing no systematic organization), about one-third defend the Bible, usually against higher criticism. Another third are either presentations of basic doctrines or general apologetic works. The rest include personal testimonies, practical applications of Christian teaching, appeals for missions and evangelism, as well as attacks on various “-isms.” Some of the articles had been published previously.
The essays were generally moderate in tone and a mix of both scholarly and popular interests and styles...The central themes of the volumes...were that conservative evangelical Protestantism could be defended on two major counts. First, its affirmations of miraculous divine interventions—as expressed in fundamental doctrines such as the inspiration of Scripture, the incarnation, the miracles and the resurrection—were fully compatible with modern science and rationality. Second, the testimony of personal experience was also important in confirming Christian belief.
The Fundamentals represented an early stage in emerging fundamentalism, an alliance of a variety of conservatives alarmed particularly over the spread of false doctrines. After the 1920s fundamentalism generally became more militant. Eventually, when in the 1940s and 1950s the main part of interdenominational fundamentalism broke between “neo-evangelicals” and stricter separatist dispensationalists, that split reflected a tension that had been present in the alliance that The Fundamentals helped forge.
G. M. Marsden