Over at www.togetherforthegospel.org, a number of scholars and clergy are presenting a document meant to draw a line in the side on the nature of the gospel. Given the growing lack of biblical literacy in Western churches, and the corresponding growth of Scriptural abuse and false teaching in churches, that's probably not a bad idea.
They make this statement on the Bible qua Word of God:
We affirm that the sole authority for the Church is the Bible, verbally inspired, inerrant, infallible, and totally sufficient and trustworthy. We deny that the Bible is a mere witness to the divine revelation, or that any portion of Scripture is marked by error or the effects of human sinfulness.
Now you know, that's a fairly straightforward statement, and it's hard to disagree with it from a faith perspective, but I think it's important to add the qualifier "within authorial intent." Why? I suppose because I've known my share of pastors and lay Christians to insist on a literal understanding of the Bible, to say that it is accurate in every detail, utterly authoritative in matters of history and science, and so on. I consider that a mistake.
The Bible is what it is -- a collection of divinely inspired writings that relate the transcendent glory and majesty of God, that reveal his desire for the nations, and that recount his plan of salvation. It includes some beautiful poetry, bewildering apocalyptic symbolism, deep wisdom, excoriating prophetic invective, fascinating histories, and above all, deeply moving stories. Those who want nothing to do with the Bible because of their experiences with the church are missing a monumental collection of literature.
But while it's invaluable for history and literature, to insist that it is the last word on history or science is to ascribe a 20th-century modernist attitude to its authors. Given that the ancient Hebrews didn't take its stories literally, and given that the accounts often differ in the order of events, provide conflicting details within parallel passages, and -- in the case of Deuteronomy and Exodus -- can't even always agree on how to perform the same sacrifice, I think we often are guilty of forcing Scripture to be something that it is not.
It is all the things that Peter said it is in his epistle -- God-breathed, inspired and useful for many purposes. Reading through it and experiencing the turmoil and tumult of its stories, the beauty of its poetry and the brilliance of its wisdom -- and most of all, encountering the God revealed within its pages -- is a radically life-changing experience.