The Fundamentals was a series of articles first published between 1910 and 1915 as the fulfillment of an oil millionaire’s (Marsden, 118) dream. He didn’t dream of becoming a Christian publishing magnate. Rather, Lyman Stewart aimed to fortify Christian leaders in the fundamentals of the faith against the tide of unbelief—specifically the unbelief of higher criticism.*
Accordingly, Stewart and his brother Milton distributed the series, one volume at a time, free of charge “to every pastor, evangelist, missionary, theological professor, theological student, Sunday school superintendent, Y. M. C. A. and Y. W. G. A. secretary in the English speaking world, so far as the addresses of all these [could] be obtained” (Vol. I, Foreword). By the time Volume V rolled off the presses, the Stewart brothers were able to claim they had sent series volumes to “more than 275,000” of these Christian leaders (Vol. V, Foreword).
The full title was The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.
Over the coming months, it’s our intention to republish The Fundamentals one chapter at a time here at SharperIron. And, though we lack Stewart’s millions, we’ll follow his tradition and make them available for free.
Why republish The Fundamentals online and why at SI in particular? After all, the series is already available on the Web for free in various digital forms (for example, the Blue Letter Bible and Archive.org). And many of the articles are more than a hundred years old, written during a time when the theological battles facing “the English speaking world” were different from those we face today. “Been there, done that,” right?
1. The fundamentals will always be under attack.
First, there is merit in bringing attention to these articles in a new venue simply because the fundamentals of the faith will always be under attack. How could it be otherwise? Until Christ rids the world permanently of His enemies, Christianity will always be opposed—and some of its enemies will be astute enough to know that the most strategic place to attack is at the foundations.
The core doctrines of the faith have never stopped being targets and will remain targets into the foreseeable future.
2. Many have never read them.
A few years ago, the truth hit me that, though I call myself a fundamentalist and claim to be thoroughly familiar with what that means, I’ve read only a few portions of The Fundamentals. I’m sure I’m not alone.
But a caveat is necessary here: The Fundamentals is not exclusively about the fundamentals of the faith. Though these ages-old beliefs are the spinal column of the project, readers will find many assertions in these volumes that no one would classify as “fundamentals of the faith.”
And though it’s not unusual to find people who see The Fundamentals as defining what fundamentalism is, the truth is that fundamentalism did not quite exist yet as a distinct group or movement. That happened a few years after the series was completed, in the 1920s (Marsden, 107). The actions and declarations that arose during the early battles within denominations are a better place to go for defining historically “what fundamentalism is.”
All this is not to suggest that The Fundamentals is unimportant. The series is a historically important expression of the attitudes and concerns that eventually became the movement. For that reason, if no other, every fundamentalist should read them. Republishing them here is going to ensure that a few more do that, including myself.
3. Our format
Arguably, we could accomplish these first two purposes by doing a lot of advertising and pointing people to the existing online versions of the series. So why reproduce them whole here? First, there is room for some improvements over the existing formats. To be sure, nobody’s going to top the authenticity of Archive.org’s microfilm version (and it’s fun to turn “real” pages). But the search tool often mysteriously fails to find hits on words and phrases I know are in the publication. And there is no topical indexing. Other online versions also lack ease-of-reference and study features I’d like to see us build.
But the main distinctive of our format would be the opportunity for discussion. Publishing the series here one chapter at a time with discussion is sure to make our version unique, at the very least. The potential exists for some real value-added through the experience.
4. History hub
Finally, perhaps SharperIron can serve as a kind of “research central” for things historically fundamentalist—in addition to the things the site already does. To put it another way, pointing people to where they can read it online is nice, and posting reviews of its of chapters one at a time would be cool, but there’s nothing quite like having a copy all your own, in house.
Editions, copyrights and such
It’s possible that we’ll run into a copyright glitch down the road and have to scrap the project. Archive.org indicates “not in copyright” as the “possible copyright status.” The original twelve- volume series includes no indication of copyright. Though the series was later published by Baker Books in four-volume sets (apparently with the chapters re-ordered as well), it’s doubtful that the text itself is anyone’s property. To keep our distance from any copyrighted editions—and also just because it’s more authentic as a piece of history—we’ll be using the twelve-volume edition as our source, and we’ll publish the articles in the sequence they appeared originally (a version of the four-volume edition is underway on the Web also, here.) I have some correspondence in the mail to Baker Books, just to make sure.
Meanwhile, if some of you who have a solid theological education (whether formal or informal) would like to sign up to jump-start discussion on particular chapters in the series (by submitting an informal review), let me know. We should have some scheduling details ready to announce within a couple of weeks.
* The terms “modernism” and “liberalism” were apparently not yet in general use. They do not appear in the series.
Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).
Dixon, A. C. and R. A. Torrey. The Fundamentals. Bible Institute of Los Angeles.