Objection Overruled: A series on objections to the Christian faith

"If there is a God, why is this world so terrible?"

"How can we be sure that Christianity is any more valid than any other world religion?"

"If God is always with me, why do I feel as though I've never met him ? "


These are questions many people ask—especially during adolescence, when they struggle with questions and doubts, trying to test their limits and find out who they are and what they believe in. In spite of their involvement in church, church school, Christian school, or youth groups, teens inevitably bump up against the "wisdom" of modern and pop culture and start asking Why? and How?

Because young people often don't know where to turn with these doubts and questions, addressing some of these issues in public worship can be very worthwhile. Through openly discussing their fears and questions in the supportive environment of their church home, young people, their parents, and the congregation as a whole have a rich opportunity to grow and mature in the faith together.

The pages that follow offer six services from a series that addresses some of these questions by focusing on the ten most common objections to the Christian faith (see sidebar). Space considerations prevented us from including all ten. If you would like the other four services as well, they are included on the computer disk for this issue (see contents page). For a $2.00 fee, you can also order a laser-print copy of the services and/or the bulletin covers by calling (616) 246-0752.

You may find the following strategy notes helpful in planning your service series:

■ The bulletin should not list all the objections until the series is complete.

Only list the objection that the congregation will focus on that week and those covered in previous weeks. This keeps up suspense and stirs internal musings in parishioners' hearts as they wonder which objection will be dealt with next week (Will it be the one that disturbs me at times?) and as they attempt to recall the answers they discovered in previous services.

■ A young person should read 1 Peter 3:15-16 near the beginning of every service, and another young person should read Ecclesiastes 12:12b-14 near the conclusion of every service.

This is a vital step that will weave a common thread while not imposing too much "serie-ness." The different services can contain a lot of variety and innovation, but be disciplined about this common thread (except in the fifth service, in which the Ecclesiastes passage should be skipped, and the sixth service, in which an elderly person should read the entire twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes as a gift to the young people).

■ Solicit and encourage musical contributions by the young people.

■ The sermons need to be sermons and not lectures.

In other words, they need to be encouraging and passionate—filtered through the grid of the preacher's own struggle to believe, but without the irritating and distracting clutter of the first-person singular.

■ The sermons need to remain pastoral.

Most "objections" to the faith take the alternative form of "doubts" in the hearts of believers. We are not in a simple "us versus them" or "world versus church" pattern. Young people especially will identify readily with most of the ten objections. The atmosphere of Hebrews 11:1 needs to permeate each service: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see!"

■ In almost every single case, the sermon needs to begin by conceding some limited validity to the objection.

In other words, the preacher needs to seriously ask if the ob-jection is based on anything valid. Where does the objection come from? Is there anything reasonable about the motivation behind the objection? Failure to begin with questions like these will make the preacher sound arrogant and will undermine his or her credibility—especially with young people, who are suspicious of any "talking down."

■ The suggestions for each service are merely a framework that you should feel free to add to and modify. Only the elements related to the theme of the service are included on these pages, so you'll often have to fill in some gaps.

■ The fifth service, in which everything leads up to the doxol-ogy is a very risky enterprise, but well worth the effort. Therefore, while you should feel free to move around, add to, and modify the elements in any of the other services, you probably will want to stick quite closely to the order suggested in addressing Objection 5.

■ The service dealing with Objection 10 should definitely include communion, although I acknowledge with regret that young people often do not have communion privileges.


Your bulletin each week should give clear credit for the origin of this series idea, a little booklet called Ten Myths About Christianity, developed by the students and staff of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at the Universities of Guelph Waterloo, and Laurier, in Ontario, Canada. The booklet was published in 1984 and copyrighted by Gorder Carkner, Herbert Gruning Bruce Toombs, and Richard Middleton. • Rev. Nick Overduin, author of this sermon series, is chaplain at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario, and a member of Jubilee Fellowship Christian Reformed Church. • The hymns in this service were selected from the most recent editions of the following hymnals: The Psalter Hymnal (PsH] The Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), the Trinity Hymnal (TH), and The Worshiping Church (WC).


  1. Jesus Christ was only a great moral teacher.
  2. Christianity stifles personal freedom.
  3. Conversion and religious experience are just the result of social conditioning.
  4. Science is in conflict with the Christian faith.
  5. The presence of evil and suffering in the world proves there is no God.
  6. It doesn't matter what you believe because all religions are basically the same.
  7. Christianity is just a crutch for the weak and helpless.
  8. Christianity is otherworldly and irrelevant to life in the twentieth century.
  9. The Bible is an unreliable set of documents that cannot be trusted.
  10. There is no evidence that Jesus Christ arose from the dead.


Objection 1: Jesus Was Only a Great Moral Teacher

Call to Worship: Mark 12:28-31

This is Jesus' statement about the two greatest commandments. Thus the service begins with a foil that the minister can use later on in the sermon.

Opening Hymn: "Christ Is Alive!" (another foil)

[RSH 413, PH 108]

Law: Read responsively the Ten Commandments, alternated with some of our Lord's moral teachings (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount). You'll find a good example on page 1013 of the worship edition of the 1987 Psalter Hymnal.

Hymn of Response: "Living for Jesus," verses 1 and 2

[PSH 292]

(Hymn) Prayer for Illumination:

"Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus."

[WC 536]

Scripture: Luke 12:49-53, John 5:17-18,8:51-59

The Luke passage depicts Jesus using language that doesn't sound particularly "moral." And in the passages from John, Jesus uses language that today might be considered evidence of psychiatric problems.

Sermon Outline

  1. Acknowledge that Jesus was certainly at least a great moral teacher and give some examples, perhaps harking back to the call to worship and the reading of the law.

  2. Acknowledge that the objection is very relevant (compared, for example, to the superficial judgment, "The church is full of hypocrites, so why should I go?"). The objection deals with a central theme of the New Testament (see the climactic passage of Mark 8:27-30).

  3. Acknowledge emphatically that Jesus was genuinely human; the doctrine of his divine nature does not undermine the reality of his human nature.

  4. Change your tone into one of puzzled worry and point out an initial problem with the objection: It makes Jesus sound too "nice"— like someone with lofty, noble sentiments who could have written an Ann Landers column even better than Ann Landers can. Contrast this idea with the harsh tone of the Luke passage and other passages like Luke 17:2, where Jesus speaks about people who should have millstones tied around their necks. Jesus doesn't just talk about peace, love, joy, happiness, and birds and lilies of the field.

  5. Become more aggressive and point out a second problem: Most of the "nice moral sayings" are deeply interwoven with the stories of Jesus' miracles. Point out how hard it is to edit out the miracles and still have any moral teachings left. It has been attempted, and it doesn't work!

  6. Draw their attention to another serious problem: Nobody in Jesus' own day, including his opponents, ever thought that Jesus was simply a great moral teacher. If we were to meet him today, there's little chance we would describe him that way either. On the contrary, we might well conclude that he required psychiatric care.

    Point out weird verses like "Before Abraham was, I am." And drive toward the conclusion so ably expressed by C.S. Lewis:

    A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse ... But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 42).
  7. Conclude by exhorting the people, including teens and young adults, not to duck the issue of Jesus' identity nor to allow others to duck it. This first objection to our faith simply does not stand up to scrutiny. We need to face the actual challenge that God puts before us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Offertory Prayer: Emphasize that we offer not only our money but also our obedience to Jesus' moral teaching.

Congregational Prayer: Give some extensive thanks for Jesus' moral teaching and its impact throughout history.

Responsive Readings: Options include Heidelberg Catechism Q&A #12-18, Belgic Confession Art. 18, or Our World Belongs to God #24-29 (PsH pp. 1026-1028).


Objection 2: Christianity Stifles Personal Freedom

Call to Worship: John 8:34-36 and 1 Corinthians 6:12

Run these two passages together—e.g., "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed...Am I not free?")

Law: Galatians 5:1-15

This passage deals with Christian freedom and obligation.

Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 61:1-3

This is a tremendously liberating passage!

Hymn of Gratitude: "Make Me a Captive, Lord"

[PsH 546, PH 378, RL 442, TH 687]

Scripture: 1 Peter 2:11-25

This passage seems filled with rules. However, as the sermon will show, all Christian rules seek to build the human community, and are therefore not restrictive, but freedom-engendering. They promote the love that we humans need, just as fish need water.

Sermon Outline

  1. Concede that many Christians do seem burdened by an array of meaningless and even absurd rules. Give some examples, preferably humorous ones. You'll find a serious example in Dos-toyevsky's chapter on "the Grand Inquisitor" in his novel The Brothers Karamazov.

  2. Ask the congregation point-blank what impression they are giving their acquaintances: one of joyous freedom in Christ, or one of pent-up, repressed living? (A prior confidential survey among the young people concerning their impressions of foolish rules would be helpful here.)

  3. And yet, what is freedom? What about the fish in the ocean who wanted to be free and jumped ashore? What is the human aquarium?

  4. Love is the first element in the human aquarium.

  5. Even humanists could agree with the point made in 4. But Christianity adds another element. The ultimate kind of love involves a willingness to suffer with and for others. It is therefore the ultimate description of the human aquarium (the suffering of Christ himself, nonviolent resistance, etc.). Freedom is found, not destroyed, when we exhibit a loving and compassionate suffering toward others. This combination should be the foundation of all the rules we make and live by. Give some examples.

  6. Conclude again with one of the verses of the call to worship, 1 Corinthians 6:12. Aggressively mock some of the alleged worldly "freedoms" that actually lead to despair and disaster. End on a completely non-apologetic note, celebrating the joy of true freedom in Christ.

Hymn of Response: "Make Me a Captive, Lord"

Singing this song a second time will make the irony take on even more meaning.

[PsH 546, PH 378, RL 442, TH 687]

Responsive Readings:

Options include Jeremiah 31:33-34, Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 86, or paragraphs from Martin Luther on "freedom in Christ."

Congregational Prayer:

Give thanks for our freedom, and pray for freedom for the oppressed, globally and locally.

Offertory Prayer (or hymn):

"Freely you have received, freely give."

Prayer of Confession:

Confess that we often prefer legalism to living by the Spirit and therefore give a poor impression of Christianity to our neighbors.


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.


Objection 4: Science is in Conflict with the Christian Faith

Call to Worship: 1 Corinthians 1:20-24,19,25 (in that order)

You should memorize and practice delivering the words of this passage, since it is a very powerful piece of oratory. Read the verses dramatically, with appropriate gestures.

Opening Hymn: "Come, All Who Fear the Lord God"

This hymn already reflects the fact that this service will be anti-scientism—though not anti-science.

[PsH 240]

Law: Job 28

This is a beautiful chapter on the question "Where shall wisdom be found?"

Prayer of Confession:

"We have often not wanted to deal with our doubts and intellectual struggles ... (etc.)"


Select a piece that overwhelms our minds as it describes the immense size of the universe.

Prayer for Illumination:

"We need clarity as well as inspiration, Lord. You address not only our hopes and fears, but also our minds. Speak to us today, Lord, with all the dignity and honesty we desire as people of science, people with minds that you yourself have given us and called us to use."

Scripture: 1 Samuel 13:23-14:15 and Acts 26:22-29

Both passages illustrate that faith and subtle cunning can easily go hand in hand.

Sermon Outline

  1. Tell a bit about the Galileo trial story, reading part of this famous scientist's recantation: "I, Galileo Galilei, wishing to remove from the minds of your eminences and of every true Christian this vehement suspicion justly cast upon me ... do swear that I shall never again speak or assert...(etc.)"

  2. Note that the whole Galileo affair was very complex, and that a major part of the problem was caused by personal enmities and hostilities rather man "church versus science"; be appropriately humorous about the church's recent belated apology.

  3. Note that Christianity actually promotes science and is a major cause of modern science. Historically, science has emerged mostly in "Christian" Western civilization. Theologically, this happened because of the desacralizing of creation ("a tree is not God, so I can study trees").

  4. Point out how Jonathan and Paul, in the Scripture passages for today, combined their intellect and their faith. Defend freedom of inquiry within the context of a trusting relationship with God, and encourage members of the congregation not to be afraid of using their brains. Affirm the young people in their questioning and exploring. (If possible, find out what topics students from your church are now studying, which exams and science fairs are coming up, etc.)

  5. Point out how little human beings really know (cf. the vastness of the universe, or even our own Milky Way galaxy, let alone developing a cure for the common cold). True scientific exploration, therefore, requires a basic assumption of humility. Science is merely "the most recent consensus." To achieve consensus, one needs peer review, methodological scrutiny, and the like. And to be successful in those things, one needs humility and courtesy. Christianity not only promotes science, but also gives us the humility we need to do science properly.

Hymn of Response: "How Great Thou Art," verses 1-3

[PsH 483 PH 467,TH 44]

Responsive Reading:

Select several quotes from believing scientists, such as Blaise Pascal or Howard Van Till.

Congregational Prayer:

Give thanks for all Christians everywhere who are engaged in scientific study.


Cancer research or some other scientific enterprise would be an appropriate cause.

Offertory Hymn: "Take My Life and Let It Be"

[PsH 288-289, PH 391, RL 475 TH 585]

Doxology: "How Great Thou Art," verse 4

[PsH 483,PH 467,TH44]


Objection 5: The Presence of Evil and Suffering in the World Proves There is No God

Call to Worship: Psalm 147:1-6

This is a celebratory passage that still introduces the enigma of evil.

Opening Hymn: "God Loves All the Righteous," verses 1, 6, and 7

As we sing this song, we admit that this service will be difficult.

[PSH 73]

Psalm of Meditation: Psalm 88

This is the most raw and unresolved expression of grief in the Psalms; outdone, probably, only by Job 3.

Responsive Reading: Heidelberg Catechism 27

A confession of God's care.

Congregational Prayer, followed by singing "The Lords Prayer"<

[PsH 207,PH 571,TH 725]


For famine, flood, earthquake, or some other kind of disaster relief.

Hymn: "He Leadeth Me"

stanza 1, all

stanza 2, women, all on refrain

stanza 3, men, all on refrain

stanza 4, all

[PsH 452,RL 161,TH 600]

Scripture: Psalm 55

Song: Psalm 55 "I Need Your Help, O Lord My God"

[PsH 55]

Prayer for Illumination: Patterned after Job 23:3-10

Sermon Outline

Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, at the end of our worship service this morning we are going to sing a very difficult song. Normally a doxology should be easy to sing, but not today. Our doxology today is perhaps one of the most difficult songs in the whole hymnal.

Mind you, it's not the tune that is difficult. The tune is quite manageable. It's the words that are hard. We will have a difficult time not choking on the words of our doxology today. While we are singing, we will wonder if we are actually allowed to say the things that are said in the song.

Each one of the four stanzas begins with this line: "What God ordains is always right." Would you dare to sing such a line today if you were standing at the entrance to a town where "ethnic cleansing" had taken place, where people had their throats slit after the soldiers practiced their throat-cutting technique on a herd of pigs?

An old Jewish proverb says that faith and blasphemy are closely related. Faith is sometimes hard to distinguish from blasphemy. It's as if there is a very fine line separating the cry of faith from the shriek of blasphemy. When we sing our doxology later this morning, the issue for us will be precisely that—whether our song will in fact be a cry of faith or a shriek of blasphemy.

It would perhaps be blasphemy, for example, to sing "What God Ordains Is Always Right" at the funeral of still another famine-ravished child in Somalia. "There is a time for speaking, and a time to refrain from speaking" says the book of Ecclesi-astes, and standing at the graveside of a child is no time to sing such words.

Today we are considering the fifth objection to the Christian faith, that the presence of evil and suffering in the world proves there is no God. You and I need to understand and accept that this is a very real and sincere objection.

There are many people who don't go to church because a vicious experience of suffering turned them off... (etc.).

The only way for us to respond to this fifth objection is to be honest about our own struggles with the very same objection ...

How do you relate your suffering to the idea that there is a good God? Christians have suffered, too, of course, and still clung to their faith.... How could they? (Tell some stories from your experience. Then tell the story of Christ's suffering and his vindication in the resurrection....)

(Last paragraph:) We have said that it would be blasphemy to sing songs at the entrance to a brutally oppressed village. But who knows? Perhaps the worst blasphemy of all is to refrain from singing. Perhaps if we keep quiet, the very stones will break forth into singing.

Prayer of Application:

—For people who hold this objection seriously

—For people who hold this objection only as an excuse

—For help in being honest about our own struggles

—In gratitude for Christ, who suffered for us

—When shall we sing the songs of Zion in the New Jerusalem?

—Help us to sing, even in Babylon.

Hymn of Response: "Children of the Heavenly Father" acapella, slowly

[PsH 440,RL 585,TH 313]

God's Will for Our Lives: Luke 10:30-37

Responsive Reading: Heidelberg Catechism #26b (do not use the Ecclesiastes passage today)



Do not type the title of the song in the liturgy, since that takes away the whole point of the service as it leads up to the doxology.

[PsH 451,RL 153,TH 108]


Objection 6: It Doesn't Matter What You Believe Because All Religions Are Basically The Same

Call to Worship: Acts 4:11-12

Opening Hymn: "Christ Shall Have Dominion"

This song contradicts the sentiments of those who hold to Objection 6.

[PsH 541,TH 439]

Prayer for Illumination:

"Lord, why does it matter what we believe? Please show us today why it matters what we believe, why you call us to be specific when we draw near to you."

Scripture: Acts 17:16-34

Hymn: "The Ends of All the Earth Shall Hear" (Psalm 22:27-31)

[PsH 542,TH 368]

Sermon Outline

  1. We are permitted some anger at the cheap, casual, offhand nature of this objection, which is probably the most common objection of all.

  2. In general, we need to be aware that although we must take these objections seriously, sometimes they are merely a smoke screen behind which people hide their unwilling and unrepentant hearts. If you answer one objection, they come up with another and another until finally, in number 6, they slam the door on you.

  3. Concede that there are some similarities in world religions—for example, they all deal with birth, marriage, and death; they all insist on ethical responsibilities; they all advocate some kind of praying.

  4. Ask what religion is. Show that everyone is religious—everyone looks for some kind of God. It's part of our makeup as human beings.

  5. Stress the unique character of the Christian faith—we don't look for God, but God looks for us. In a very real way, Christianity is not a religion at all, for it is not a way to find God. It is rather a way of responding to the God who actually sought us out in concrete history, most notably in the incarnation.

  6. Note that Jesus was crucified by "religious" people. Remind the congregation of Karl Barth's famous line, "God's response to the entire global religious scene is one simple word: NEIN!" Compare Acts 17:27 and 30, "God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.... But now he commands all people everywhere to repent."

  7. God probably does hear the prayers of non-Christians (cf. Acts 10: "Cornelius, God has heard your prayer."), and God's hell is probably less populated than we would make it ("The first shall be last and the last first"). But the fact that God may have compassion on non-Christians does not mean that all religions are basically the same. All other religions attempt to find God. Christianity, quite the opposite, is about God's search for us.

Hymn of Response: "O Christians, Haste"

[PsH 525]


An appropriate cause would be world missions organizations.

Offertory Prayer:

"We offer not only our gifts but also the specifics of our beliefs, our concrete allegiance to Jesus Christ... (etc.)."

Responsive Reading:

Select some belief statements from the pope about how Christ works—and does not work—in the midst of the belief systems of other religions.

Prebenediction Verse:

Replace the usual verses with a reading of the entire last chapter of Ecclesiastes by a senior member of the church. This is a gift for the young people.

Reformed Worship 28 © June 1993, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.