The Christian Literacy Project

Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church
Feb. 21, 2021


II Peter 1:16-18

(Some parts of scripture are stories that were told and retold over many, many years and eventually written down by those with no firsthand knowledge of the events. Notice in this passage that it’s written by an eyewitness, Peter.)

 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved,[a] with whom I am well pleased.”  We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.


Our passage for today: II Peter 1:1-8

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.  For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness,  and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.  For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 



A few years ago I read Stephen Prothero’s book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t. Prothero is the chair of the religion dept. at Boston University. I found his book interesting, inspiring and depressing!  Prothero begins many of his classes by giving his students a little quiz on the first day of class. I’d like you to take part of that quiz right now. Here it is:


Religious Literacy Quiz

  1. Name the four Gospels. (John, Paul, George & Ringo?)
  2. According to the Gospels Jesus was raised in what town?
  3. In an inaugural address, a recent US President said, “When we see the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass by on the other side.” What Biblical story was he referring to? 
  4. “God helps those who help themselves.” Is this in the Bible?
    If so, which book?
  5. Match the Bible characters with their story or description:

Paul                                  First of the Patriarchs

Abraham                           Apostle to the Gentiles                           

Jesus                                 Olive Branch

Noah                                 Exodus

Moses                                Garden of Gethsemane                

  1. List as many of the Ten Commandments as you can:



Here are the answers:

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
  2. Nazareth
  3. The Parable of the Good Samaritan
  4. It’s not in the Bible
  5. Paul Apostle to the Gentiles    

Abraham       First of the Patriarchs                                                

Jesus            Garden of Gethsemane                

Noah             Olive Branch          

Moses           Exodus                   

  1. I – IV (Loving God)                  V – X (Loving your Neighbor)

No other gods                              Honor your Father & Mother

No idols                                       Don’t Murder,

Don’t misuse my name                  Don’t commit Adultery

Honor the sabbath                        Don’t Steal, don’t Lie, don’t Covet


Professor Prothero says that most of the students in his classes fail this little quiz. Most could not name the four Gospels. When it came to the Ten Commandments they averaged four. (I read once that there are more Americans who can recite the names of all the Brady Brunch children than there are Americans who can name all the Ten Commandments) 

Prothero cites some other surveys in his book:
– only half of adults can name even one of the four Gospels.
– most Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.
– most do not know that the story of Jonah is in the Bible.
– 10% of Americans believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
Thus the need for Christian Literacy!

Literacy refers to the ability to use a language – to know what words means, to be able to converse in that language.  (Prothero, p. 11)   To read, write and speak is to be literate. 

We need to be Literate Christians, able to speak about our faith.

In 1987 E.D. Hirsch wrote a best-selling book called, Cultural Literacy. Hirsch argued the modern trend in education away from content-based learning and towards skill-based learning had produced a “disintegration of cultural memory.”  Education moved away from rote memorization, from just piling up facts, but the result is we don’t know much. 

For example, we all know the slogan, “Remember the Alamo,” but few people actually know what went on at the Alamo that’s worth remembering.

Hirsh called for a return to what he termed, “core knowledge.” He said that without this “core knowledge” we can’t really have intelligent conversations and make informed decisions.  We’re adrift in the ocean, not knowing where we’ve come from, so we can’t possibly know where we’re going.

The same is true when it comes to religion. We need to have a basic core knowledge of our faith and eventually a basic core knowledge of the great faiths of the world.

Religious literacy means having the ability to understand and speak about our faith intelligently. It’s the ability to communicate the basic tenants of our religion

In terms of Christian Literacy . . .

It’s understanding the meaning of such words as Covenant, Atonement, Incarnation & Trinity.

It’s knowing that Christ was not his last name but a title.

It’s knowing the 10 Commandments, being familiar with the Sermon on the Mount, the Parables, and the events of Holy Week.

It’s understanding Paul’s doctrine of Grace (that we are saved by grace and not works) and James’ doctrine that “faith without works is dead.”

It’s knowing that Jeremiah was a prophet, not a bullfrog, and it’s knowing what the job of the prophets was in ancient Israel.

Christian Literacy is knowing that St. Paul & St. Luke were not part of the original 12 disciples, but they were instrumental in the spread of early Christianity and prolific writers of books that ended up in the New Testament.


There is a basic core knowledge that is essential for us all to have. Prothero makes the case that when it comes to religion Americans are a paradox – “we as a people are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion at the same time.”  This is troubling, says Prothero, because . . .

One can’t understand current events in our nation and world without understanding religion!

For Example:

    1. Why is same-sex marriage particularly troubling for the Catholic Church? – because marriage is a sacrament, and one ought not go changing a sacrament. (others point out that marriage has changed through the years – from polygamy and arranged marriages to today)
    2. Why is abortion the primary election issue for so many Evangelicals? – because of Psalm 139“You knit me together in my mother’s womb. It was you who formed my inward parts.”
    3. Why do Sunni & Shiite Muslims not get along?


After we toppled Saddam Hussein, a violent civil war broke out in Iraq between Sunni & Shiite Muslims. Our government wasn’t prepared for this. We were caught off guard, and it demonstrated a lack of religious literacy.

Why do Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims not get along?

After the death of Muhammad in 632 the Muslim community split into two. One group, the Sunnis, believed that Muhammad’s successor should be elected.  The other group, the Shiites, believed that Muhammad’s successor should come from his family.  Some militant Muslims have also believed that it’s ok to kill heretics, so that’s meant that it’s ok for them to kill each other.

Now before we get uppity about this we should remember that we Christians have done our share of killing heretics and witches through the years as well.  Look at the assault on the Capitol Building. Some felt it was their duty to God, Country, Trump, and Jesus, to hang Mike Pence.

4. I read something chilling about the Proud Boys at the assault on the Capitol. You’ve heard about them (that’s the group that President Trump famously told to “Stand down and Stand by”), and you probably know that they were some of the ones in tactical combat gear on Jan. 6. What I discovered this week is that before they stormed the building they prayed!

They believed that Donald Trump & Jesus had called them there to do what they had to do to, “take this country back.”

Now how does that happen? In what world does that make sense?

To answer that you have to know something about the history of Fundamentalism in this county – and how it has aligned itself with White Supremacy, as well as with the view that we were founded as a Christian nation instead of a pluralistic nation with freedom of religion and tolerant of different religions. They’ve made this mistake by confusing the intent of the Puritans of the 1600’s with the Founding Fathers of the 1700’s. The Puritans did indeed come here to establish a Christian nation, a “city set on a hill,” and this made them intolerant of people of other faiths (they sent them off to Rhode Island!).

The Founding Fathers were different. Some were indeed Christian, but several of them were Deists, some were Unitarian, and some had no religion at all. But most importantly, they founded a country based on freedom of religion. Fundamentalism often seems to conveniently forget this.

Fundamentalism has also had an often aggressive triumphalism at its core – taking the world for Christ, claiming the world for Christ. “Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War.”

One more example:

5. You can’t understand the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis without understanding the Biblical concept of Covenant, and that the book of Genesis promises the land to Abraham & his family (this Covenant was passed down through Isaac, Jacob and Moses, etc.). They got the land on good authority. 

Of course, Genesis 12 also talks about being “blessed to be a blessing,” so perhaps it’s meant to be shared!


So, do you see how an informed citizen needs to know something about religion?


We need to know something about the religions of the world not only to be truly educated people, but also to be effective, informed citizens.

St. Peter believed that we should seek Christian literacy.

He wrote about adding knowledge to our faith. II Peter 1:5-7
For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.

Support your faith . . . with knowledge.

Support your faith with study, with growth, with teaching, with learning more about your faith.

We usually define the word, disciple as a follower. But there’s another meaning to the word, isn’t there? Student. A disciple is a student, a learner, a pupil of Jesus.

So this Lent we’re embarking on a “Christian Literacy Project.”  Through the Lenten Devotional, as well as twice a week emails & via sermons, we’re going to strive to increase our religious IQ’s, to enhance our basic core knowledge of our faith. I hope you’ll come along for the journey.

Peter said, Faith and knowledge go together.

Support your faith . . . with knowledge.

Let’s pray:

Loving God, help us to grow in the knowledge of our faith this Lent.
Most of all, help us to grow in our knowledge of You. Amen.


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