Today “fundamentalism” has come into common usage to mean a strict resistance to change in any religious context, but at that time the word was new. It derives from a series of pamphlets called “The Fundamentals,” financed by a wealthy Presbyterian named Lyman Stewart.
The pamphlets set forth a series of nonnegotiable points that Christians were to agree on or face charges of heresy. The two most important arguments for fundamentalists were and continue to be the inerrancy of the Bible, meaning everything in the Bible is true, and reading the Bible literally. Fundamentalists invented this new menu of irrefutable beliefs as a response to the higher criticism of the Bible by liberal theologians. Any new information that might call previous views into question was not just rejected, but new lines of exclusion were developed to protect the old beliefs that were being challenged.
This push for inerrancy and a literal reading of the BIble was a fear-based reaction to a perception that theological liberalism had opened a whole can of worms in its openness to the natural and social sciences. The push for a literal reading is indefensible to anyone who opens the Bible and sees different points of view, storytelling approaches, and literary traditions. Two contradictory creation stories open Genesis: one describes God creating the world in six days: the other describes God creating the garden of Eden. You can deny science and affirm both stories, but it’s prima facie impossible to say both are literally true.
From “Just Faith: Reclaiming Progressive Christianity” by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons – Broadleaf Books