Carlos Bovell has written a very nice guest post on the blog of Peter Enns, titled "Does an inerrantist culture 'do good or do harm?'" His argument is that evangelicals need to reframe and decenter the notion of inerrancy in their conception of biblical authority:
One concern I have is that, for various reasons, a number of inerrantist scholars are failing to grasp just how debilitating it is to spiritual formation to foreground inerrancy as a central and permanent fixture for American evangelical identity. They fail to see how, culturally and institutionally, this mindset can keep evangelical teachers from doing good, from providing healing for searching Christians both in evangelical churches and in classrooms.
It's a great article. Go read it.
What caught my eye was his statement that although inerrantists have become more sophisticated in their hermeneutics—recognizing the existence of different genres in scripture—they reject the existence of "errant genres" like myth and legend.
Defining inerrancy according to genre, for example, does not go far enough because inerrantists still feel the same pressure, just delayed for a moment: only genre designations that are not “errant” are allowed, which helps explain why myth and legend in Genesis, for example, are not typically admitted as legitimate genre designations by inerrantist writers.
But such designations are routinely—even universally—accepted outside of inerrantist scholarship. Guarding against “errant” genres in scripture looks like special pleading and a needless spiritual distraction.
You can see this dynamic in the 1978 Chicao Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, which affirms "genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study" in Article XIII, but still rejects mythic readings of Genesis in Article XXII.
Here is my question: how can a genre be errant? Each genre is a tool of the biblical writers, like all of the other tools that they use. The literalist argument is that Genesis 1–11, for instance, presents itself as factual, and so must be read as historical narrative rather than myth. I disagree with that argument based on analysis of the text itself, in its context, but that is a much better claim than that myth cannot be true or authoritative, a legitimate genre within scripture.
These hermeneutical maneuvers are not a good strategy in the long term. I would prefer that we engage scripture on its own terms and let go of our tight grip long enough to let it speak to us however it wants, in whatever genre.