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Fundamentalism as a movement arose in the United States starting among conservative Presbyterian academics and theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary in the first decade of the Twentieth Century  . It soon spread to conservatives among the Baptists and other denominations during and immediately following the First World War  . The movement's purpose was to reaffirm orthodox Protestant Christianity and zealously defend it against the challenges of liberal theology, German higher criticism, Darwinism, and other "-isms" which it regarded as harmful to Christianity  .
Since then, the focus of the movement, the meaning of the term Fundamentalism, and the ranks of those who willingly use it to identify themselves, have gone through several phases of re-definition,   though maintaining the central commitment to its orthodoxy. The earliest phase involved the identification and listing of "The Fundamentals of Christianity", and resulted in an urgent battle to expel from the ranks of the churches, those inimical to orthodox Protestantism  .
In 1909, Lyman Stewart, founder of Biola University, and his brother Milton, anonymously funded the publication of a twelve-volume series of articles called The Fundamentals,   published between 1910 and 1915, and distributed free of charge to a wide range of Christian teachers and leaders, "Compliments of Two Christian Laymen." These volumes were intended as a restatement of conservative Christian theological teachings, primarily in response to the growing influence of modernist, liberal theology in the Church. In 1917 these articles were republished in a revised, four volume set by Biola. The term "fundamentalism" is in part derived from these volumes. The Fundamentals, were authored by a broad range of denominations in North America and the United Kingdom in which various core doctrines and traditional teachings (all considered basic to the Christian Faith) were defended against any movement which appeared to undermine the authority of Bible, the Holy Scriptures. Examples of those considered unfriendly, having the disposition of an enemy, and even hostile, were: Romanism (Catholicism), Socialism, Modern Philosophy, Atheism, Eddyism (Mary Baker Eddy - Christian Science), Mormonism, Spiritualism ("Channeling" etc.), and above all, "Liberal Theology" (a movement which held a naturalistic interpretation of the doctrines of the faith, German higher criticism, and Darwinism).
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Almost immediately, however, the list of unfriendly movements became narrower and the “fundamentals” less specific. Some of the original defenders of The Fundamentals of Christianity began to dissent and re-organize into other denominations. In 1910, The General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church affirmed several essential doctrines in the church regarded as under attack: The Inerrancy of Scripture, The Virgin Birth of Jesus, The Substitutionary Atonement of Christ, Christ’s bodily resurrection, and the Historicity of The Miracles. These were reaffirmed in 1916 and again in 1923. Another version put the Deity of Christ in place of the Virgin Birth.
The term "fundamentalist" was perhaps first used in 1920 by Curtis Lee Laws in the Baptist Watchman-Examiner, but it soon became widely accepted as a common term identifying anyone who believed in and actively defended the traditional doctrines of Christianity. For example, in the 1920s the Baptist John Roach Straton called his newspaper The Fundamentalist. The Presbyterian scholar J. Gresham Machen disliked the word and only hesitatingly accepted it to describe himself, because, he said, the name sounded like a new religion and not the same historic Christianity that the Church had always believed.
Throughout the 1920s in the United States, the "fundamentalists" and "modernists" struggled against each other for control of the large northern denominations. Fundamentalists viewed this as nothing less than a struggle for true (i.e., historical) Christianity against a new naturalistic religion that had crept into the churches. In his book, Christianity and Liberalism (1923), Machen called the new naturalistic religion "Liberalism", but later followed the more popular fashion of referring to it as "Modernism".
Even though people such as Harry Emerson Fosdick professed to be Christian, fundamentalists felt that he and other non-fundamentalists could not be regarded as fundamental because they denied the traditional formulations of the doctrines of Christianity and replaced them with modern naturalistic doctrinal statements. The issue was as much each side’s approach to theology in the context of history, as it was each side’s view of Christianity. Fundamentalists believed that the manner in which Christian doctrines had been already formulated were correct and that attempts to reformulate them in modernistic terms and naturalistic views were bound to be a perversion of the truth. Their position was that the fundamentals were unchanging because of the Biblical passage, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever," (Hebrews 13:8, KJB) which they interpreted to mean that the nature of Christianity should remain eternally unchanged.
Church struggles occurred in the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Protestant Episcopal Church, and even in the Southern Presbyterian Church, but the grand battles were fought in the Northern Presbyterian and Northern Baptist denominations. Machen was the undisputed leader among Presbyterians, joined by Clarence E. Macartney. Baptists created the National Federation of the Fundamentalists of the Northern Baptists (1921), the Fundamentalist Fellowship (1921), and the Baptist Bible Union (1923) to lead the fight. The battles focused upon the seminaries, the mission boards, and the ordination of clergy. In many ways, however, the real strongholds of the Fundamentalists were the Southern Baptists and the countless new independent churches spread across America’s South and Midwest, as well as the East and West.