In fact, I'm going to quote Marsden (omitting his extensive bibliographical documentation), just to cut to the chase:
In 1910 the Presbyterian General Assembly, in response to some questions raised about the orthodoxy of some of the graduates of Union Theological Seminary, adopted a five-point declaration of "essential" doctrines. Summarized, these points were: (1) the inerrancy of Scripture, (2) the Virgin Birth of Christ, (3) his substitutionary atonement, (4) his bodily resurrection, and (5) the authenticity of the miracles. These five points . . . were not intended to be a creed or a definitive statement. Yet in the 1920s they became the "famous five points" that were the last rallying position before the spectacular collapse of the conservative party. Moreover, because of parallels to various other fundamentalist short creeds (and an historian's error), they became the basis of what (with premillennialism substituted for the authenticity of the miracles) were long known as the "five points of fundamentalism." (117)Marsden footnotes that paragraph, which I'll quote here, albeit without the ellipses for omitted bibliographic information:
The usual form made "the deity of Christ" point no. 2 and combined the resurrection with the second coming as point no. 5. Ernest Sandeen exposes the error of the first historian of fundamentalism, Stewart G. Cole, who attributed this form to the Niagara Bible Conference of 1895. During the 1920s "the five points of fundamentalism" sometimes referred to the Presbyterian points and sometimes to the Presbyterian points with the premillennial return of Christ substituted for the miracles as point no. 5. (262)Beale concurs and expands:
As a safeguard, however, from anyone falsely assuming that Christianity could be reduced to five assertions, the 1910 Assembly added that other biblical truths were "equally" important. (149)From this documentation, three conclusions seem appropriate:
- The five fundamentals were a specific response to specific theological problems in a specific time period targeted at a specific practical matter—ministerial licensing.
- The five fundamentals were never intended to serve as an exclusive summary of essential doctrines.
- The five fundamentals are more significant for their demonstration of the timeless, theologically-faithful response to false doctrine than they are a timeless statement of which doctrines matter.