The cracked and worn booklets that grace this issue’s cover may not look like much today. But a century ago, their humble pages were helping to spark a religious movement across the nation.
Published between 1910 and 1915, The Fundamentals — a 12-volume series of essays aimed at defending orthodox Christian faith — quickly became more popular than almost anything you’ll find on today’s New York Times best-seller list. More than 3 million copies were ultimately sent out free of charge across the English-speaking world to any pastor, evangelist, teacher, student or religious worker who requested them. Even by modern standards, that’s an impressive number.
Today, nearly 100 years since the final volume was published, The Fundamentals is widely recognized by historians as one of the most significant religious publications of the 20th century. And it’s also an important part of Biola’s legacy. As many Biolans know, the project was conceived and funded (anonymously) by the university’s visionary founder Lyman Stewart, along with his brother Milton. One of the school’s early deans, R.A. Torrey, served as a contributor and editor, and ultimately compiled the project into its final form. And everyone on the mailing list went on to receive a free subscription to the original Biola magazine, The King’s Business.
So, as we near the 100-year anniversary of the project’s completion, we at Biola Magazine decided to provide a look back. With this issue’s cover story, Biola professor Paul Rood takes us inside the fascinating back-story of The Fundamentals, gleaned from countless hours he’s spent exploring library archives as part of ongoing research into Stewart’s life. Historians have written much over the years about The Fundamentals’ impact on American religious life, but Paul’s research offers colorful details and fresh insights picked up from examining hundreds of original letters, postcards, business records and photos. (And what he shares here is just a small taste of what he has produced for a series of commemorative booklets and library exhibits.)
His work also serves to remind us why The Fundamentals is worthy of celebration. Unfortunately, the related term “fundamentalist” has taken on pejorative connotations over the years and has come to be linked with anti-intellectualism and standoffishness. But the authors of The Fundamentals were nothing of the sort. Instead, what they offered was an irenic, intellectual defense of historic Christian doctrines at a time when unorthodox teachings were beginning to flow ever stronger from mainline professors down to pastors and from pastors down to the pews.
As today’s generation faces its own various pressures to distort and dilute biblical truth, may forerunners such as Stewart and Torrey be encouraging models of what it means to lead with courage and conviction as we seek to impact the world for Christ.