In his work Religious Literacy, Stephen Prothero offers what he calls a "Dictionary of Religious Literacy." It represents his attempt to ennumerate the bare minimum of what an American needs to know to qualify as religiously literate. What it amounts to in practice is a relatively short list of terms from the world religions and their definitions which are most relevant to civic life in the United States. It was interesting for me to peruse through that list, in part to learn new things that I supposedly should have known all along but also to evaluate just how well I stacked up against his minimum of religious knowledge.
My interest in religious literacy is somewhat different, however, from Prothero's. His concern is primarily with religious knowledge as a civic duty, as a way for all people to adequately navigate the social and political landscape of Christian-dominant but highly pluralistic America. For my part, I lament religious ignorance because it leads to religious excesses and abberations. To be a Christian and to not understand basic truths about the Bible or about the main contours of Christian theology is to invite disaster into your own thinking. The proliferation of ever more ridiculous sects and abominable ethical systems in American Christianity is, I believe, a direct result of the ongoing biblical and theological illiteracy of most American adherents.
With that in mind, I would like to offer what I believe are the core Christian facts which every American Christian ought to know by adulthood in order to successfully navigate the social, political, and theological landscape of America's Christian pluralism. I will divide my list into two fifty point sections: a primary literacy and a secondary literacy. They correspond roughly to what I believe a person should learn in from their earliest childhood and what should be built onto this base knowledge later, perhaps in high school. Let it be noted that some of these concepts may appear at first glance to be quite deep and complex. For example, if I list "Synoptic Gospels" as an area of knowledge of a literate Christian, I do not expect every Christian to be able to navigate the intricacies of two source theory versus four source theory versus the Farrer hypothesis or even to know what those are. It is enough to simply know what the term "Synoptic Gospels" means, i.e. which are the Synoptic Gospels and why, so as to know it if it should appear in an adult conversation about inspiration, canon, or higher criticism. With that disclaimer out of the way, here is my own skeletal outline of a literate Christian:
1) Name the books of the Bible in order.
2) Distinguish the Torah.
3) Distinguish the Gospels.
4) Distinguish the Epistles.
5) Identify Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel,
18) Mary and Joseph,
19) John the Baptist,
21) Peter, James, and John,
22) Judas Iscariot,
23) Pontius Pilate,
25) and Saul/Paul of Tarsus.
26) List the 7 days of creation,
27) the 10 plagues,
28) and the 10 Commandments.
29) Be familiar with the story of the Tower of Babel,
30) Sacrifice of Isaac,
31) Parting of the sea,
32) Giving of the Law and the golden calf,
33) Fall of Jericho,
34) Slaying of Goliath,
35) Fall of Jerusalem and exile,
37) Baptism of Jesus,
38) Temptation in the wilderness,
39) Feeding of the 5,000,
40) Clearing of the temple,
41) Passion, resurrection, and ascension,
42) Conversion of Saul,
43) and the conversion of Cornelius.
44) Be able to recite the Shema,
45) Psalm 23,
46) Lord's Prayer,
47) Golden Rule,
48) John 3:16,
49) Great Comission,
50) and either the Apostle's or the Nicene Creed.
1) Name the Deuterocanonical books.
2) Distinguish the Prophets (Major and Minor).
3) Distinguish the Pauline and Johanine Epistles.
4) Distinguish Synoptic Gospels.
5) Identify Seth,
6) Ham, Shem, and Japheth,
13) Saul, King of Israel,
14) Jeroboam and Rehoboam,
17) Elijah and Elisha,
20) Ezra and Nehemiah,
23) Mary Magdalene,
26) and Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy.
27) Be able to list the Twelve Apostles.
28) Be familiar with some of the distinctive beliefs of Catholics,
34) and Mormons.
35) Be able to identify Augustine,
36) Thomas Aquinas,
37) Martin Luther,
38) and John Calvin.
39) Distinguish between Pharisees and Sadducees.
40) Be familiar with Matthew 5-7,
41) John 1,
42) Acts 2,
43) Romans 1-6,
44) 1 Corinthians 15,
45) Ephesians 2:8-9 and James 2:14-26,
46) and the broad strokes of Revelation.
47) Be able to roughly explain a Christian understanding of Trinity,
48) Divinity of Jesus,
49) and sin and salvation.
50) Define the term "evangelical."