Objection Overruled: Objection 3: Conversion and religious experience are just the result of social conditioning

Hymn of Repentance: "Out of Need and Out of Custom"
[PsH 259]


Read a selection of verses from Proverbs regarding sons and daughters honoring their moms and dads.

Prayer for Illumination:

"We confess that sometimes going to church is something we have been conditioned to do. Some of us might not even want to be here today, but felt we had to come. Speak to each of us individually. Call us by name. Your sheep hear your voice when you call them by name."

Scripture: 2 Chronicles 33:1-20

Manasseh's evil in light of his good upbringing challenges this objection. His eventual conversion challenges the objection again.

Sermon Outline

  1. Ask people to raise their hands if they grew up in Christian homes. You will have made your point about the halting validity behind this objection. Bring up the whole issue of how much "chance" people have of becoming Christians if they grow up in, say, Iran.

  2. Assert that there are enough exceptions to make us think. Remind the group that not all the people in the congregation raised their hands. Also, all of us know people who were raised in Christian homes but lost their faith. "Like parent, like child" does not always apply (as in the case of Hezekiah and Manasseh).
  3. Go on the offensive: If this obj ection were true, where would human freedom be? Tell a dramatic conversion story of, for example, a Muslim. Iranians don't have to be Islamic. Challenge the young people: Are they all in church today only because Mom and Dad told them they had to be here?
  4. In our increasingly global village, isn't this objection less true all the time? Are we not increasingly being conditioned by outside forces in the same manner no matter where we live?
  5. Does the process of social conditioning mean there is no substance behind it? For example, suppose I have been conditioned to believe there is a Holy Spirit. Does that necessarily mean there is not a Holy Spirit? What if God takes our social conditioning seriously and tries to work with it? (cf. Paul and Timothy; Deuteronomy 6; and examples in The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.)
  6. Instead of objecting, remember that "of those who receive much, much will be asked." The last shall be first and the first last. Christianity would be against merely "conditioned" Christians. God demands our hearts, not the things we do "out of custom or superstition." When we come to years of discretion, we are challenged to explore, test, question, and ultimately "own" the claim of God upon our lives (for many of us, this has been demonstrated already in our infant baptism).
  7. Conclude with the Great Commission. As Christians, we are not to stew over issues of social conditioning. Rather, we are to challenge all people, regardless of their conditioning, to respond to the grace of God, even as it becomes apparent in and through their conditioning.

Hymn of Response: "Lord, You Give the Great Commission"
[PsH 523,PH 429]

Congregational Prayer:

Give thanks for our God-fearing parents and others who have "conditioned" us. Conclude the prayer with the apocryphal "Prayer of Manasseh."


An appropriate cause might be needy children or an educational outreach program that your church sponsors.

Offertory Prayer:

"We pledge to condition our children to grow in love for God and for his Son, Jesus Christ... (etc.)"

Responsive Reading:

Read sections of the Canons of Dort regarding the Holy Spirit working in our hearts (e.g., Articles 11 and 12 of the Third/Fourth Points). Note that the doctrine of election implies that God crosses the boundaries of social conditioning.


Nick Overduin is pastor of First Christian Reformed Church, Toronto, Ontario.


Reformed Worship 28 © June 1993 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.