The Historical Background of the Five Fundamentals -- By: Oliver Price

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 118:469 (Jan 1961)
Article: The Historical Background of the Five Fundamentals
Author: Oliver Price


The Historical Background of the Five Fundamentals

Oliver Price

[Oliver Price is Director of the Bible Lovers League, with headquarters in Oklahoma City.]

Norman F. Furniss in The Fundamentalist Controversy, 1918–1931 concludes by depicting fundamentalism as a lost cause. Stewart G. Cole in the closing chapter of The History of Fundamentalism likewise pictures the fundamentalists as a minority drifting toward extinction. There are signs today, however, of a lively revival of interest in fundamentalism though sometimes manifested in a volley of criticism.

While the fundamentals of the faith can be traced through the Reformation to the early church, fundamentalism as it is known today has its roots in the nineteenth century whence its liberal counterpart also sprang. In 1877 a Prophetic Conference was held at the Church of the Holy Trinity in New York City. The New York Tribune published an edition of 50,000 copies giving in full the messages of the conference. Conferences held in various parts of the country brought together leaders from the major Protestant denominations. Their addresses alerted pastors and laymen to the significance of liberalism which was infiltrating the churches and rallied Christians to the defense of historic Christianity.

The statement of five fundamentals formulated by the Niagara group in 1895 became a focal point in the controversy. These were presented as the essentials of faith which all Christians must accept. Briefly they were: (1) the inerrancy of the Scriptures, (2) the deity of Christ, (3) His virgin birth, (4) His substitutionary atonement, and (5) His physical resurrection and future bodily return.

No major Protestant denomination escaped the impact of the fundamentals of the faith. Widespread interest in the subject was reflected in the space it occupied in such secular magazines as: Atlantic, Forum, New Republic, Current Opinion, Literary Digest, Harpers, American Mercury, The Nation. The Forum published its readers’ definitions of a fundamentalist. One liberal caustically wrote, “A Fundamentalist is a besieged Christian anxious to dictate the terms of surrender to

Science.”1 A fundamentalist reader offered a definition reflecting his stand against the relativism inherent in the liberal theology: “In every realm of life there are certain great ultimates of truth. These are basic and cannot be improved upon. You cannot improve on the straight line or the multiplication table or the seven primary colors. In the spiritual realm we have ultimates, such as, The Existence of ...

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