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One of the most provocative aspects of Machen's thought is his contention that apologetics involves preparing a culture more congenial to the gospel.
It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the while collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root ... What is today matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop is was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mold the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity ... What more pressing duty than for those who have received the mighty experience of regeneration, who, therefore, do not, like the world, neglect that whole series of vitally relevant facts which is embraced in Christian experience— what more pressing duty than for these men to make themselves masters of the thought of the world in order ot make it an instrument of truth instead of error (see note 62)?
Is there Biblical warrant for this goal in 1 Peter 2:15—we are to silence the ignorance of foolish men by our good deeds, that is, we are to stop the spread of falsehood by a powerful evidence to the contrary ? Or is there evidence for Machen's view in Ephesians 5:11 where we are to expose the fruitless works of darkness? Or should be consider Matt. 5:14-16 where we are light and salt, which may perhaps include spreading the preservative idea that there is truth and beauty and valid knowing? Or, perhaps most plainly we should find support for Machen's view in 2 Cor. 10:3 where we are to take every thought captive to Christ?
In one sense this teaching of changing culture so that the gospel is more readily believed may sound backward. In world missions the gospel comes first before the culture is transformed. Only then, after the gospel is received is there set in motion a culture-shaping power that in a generation or two may result in changing some world-view issues in the culture that make Christianity less foreign even to the non-believer so that there are fewer obstacles to overcome.
But this process is not a straight line to glory on earth (some saved culture altered more saved culture more altered, etc.). The process seems to ebb and flow as generations come and go. Being born and living in that ebb and flow one must ask: is it a crucial ministry to engage in debate at foundational levels in order to slow the process of deterioration of gospel-friendly assumptions, and even perhaps even hasten the reestablishing of assumptions that would make Christianity objectively conceivable and thus more capable of embracing?
The New Testament is a first generation document. It is not written into a situation where the gospel has been known and believed for centuries and where the culture may have been partially transformed, degenerated and now in need of another movement of transformation. But there is an analogy to this kind of cultural situation in the Old Testament with people of God who did indeed experience the ebb and flow of being changed by the Word of God and drifting away from it. So we might see in some of the reforming actions of the Old Testament an analogy to what Machen meant by preparing the culture to make it more receptive to the truth of God. For example, one might think of the removal of the high places by the king, or the putting away of foreign wives by the post-exilic Jews.
We need to think long and hard about the relative priority of such culture shaping effort as preparatory for the gospel in view of the Biblical missionary pattern of the reverse.