1. We should prefer a nominally Christian culture to paganism because the restraining of evil is always to be preferred to the open embrace and celebration of evil. While all sin is deadly for the soul and deserves the just wrath of God in Hell forever, not all sin is equally corrupting or harmful to individuals or a society. Lust in the heart is sinful adultery, but it is not as corrupting to an individual or society as actually committing adultery, homosexuality, or bestiality. While all lust is sin, and the wages of all sin is death, the corruption of a teenage boy looking at a Victoria Secret model really is very different from him coming across hardcore child porn. Likewise, hatred in the heart is sinful murder as our Lord taught; but actual physical murder does more harm and damage. While hypocrisy is a grave sin that leads to greater evils if left unchecked, it is still a less corrupting sin than the open and flagrant defiance of God’s laws. As Francois de La Rochefoucauld famously said, “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.” And better that culture than one in which vice feels no need to pay any tribute to virtue at all. Which incidentally means that I would argue that a nominally Christian culture is only possible where true Christian faith has a dominant influence in a culture. Nevertheless, suppression of evil is to be preferred to the open celebration of evil for the same reason that civil order is to be preferred to civil chaos, even if the order arises from mixed, unbelieving, or even hypocritical motives.
2. We should prefer a nominally Christian culture to paganism because we are required by God to pray for the peace of our cities and to pray that we might live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty (Jer. 29:7, 1 Tim. 2:2). Of course the ultimate peace of our cities would be the true conversion of every individual in our cities to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the most quiet life would be one where everyone is regenerated. But the relative peace of our cities is found in their relative openness and conformity to God’s laws and ways, even if not done with pure motives from the heart. For example, while our nation has clearly not repented of our barbarous murder of preborn children, Christians should be rejoicing in the overturning of Roe. And the fact that a mainline presbyterian President and several Roman Catholic Supreme Court justices played major roles in that decision is an example of nominal Christian culture scoring a win over overt paganism. Anecdotally, many nominal Christians (who for example only attend church on Christmas and Easter) tend to lean more biblical when it comes to many social issues, even if inconsistently. Vague, external conformity to Christianity is better for the peace of nations and for the peaceable existence of Christians than unrestrained paganism.
3. We should prefer a nominally Christian culture to paganism because when the church is healthy and thriving, many nominal Christians come into more contact with the true gospel and come to true faith. We practice this when Christian parents raise their children going to church. Some of those children do not come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ until years later, but those years of “nominal” church attendance were not wasted. They were years of evangelism and preparation for the gospel. As I tweeted recently: “Fear of ‘cultural Christianity’ is the social-cultural equivalent of normalizing crisis conversion — the mistaken notion that you have to go through a period of rebellion before getting saved. But many come to Christ growing up going to church; we should want that for our nation.” Likewise, Christians frequently invite non-Christian friends to attend church, Bible studies, vacation Bible schools, Christian concerts, small groups, and I strongly doubt that any Christians seriously worry that this is bad for their non-Christian friends and neighbors or their churches or nation. The gospel works like leaven through a loaf, and that ordinarily takes time and contact. That time of external contact with the gospel is not bad but ordinarily good. We certainly know that if unbelievers hear the gospel clearly and reject it, it will go worse for them in the end in Hell (2 Pet. 2:21). But in the meantime, the fact that some non-Christians will attend church or Bible studies and to some extent conform their lives outwardly to some Christian norms is an evangelistic opportunity. This is to be preferred over open antagonism to Christianity where those opportunities are far fewer. It’s harder to share the gospel when the unbelievers are only shouting you down and hauling you off to the gulags — even though God has often still used that persecution to display His gospel and call unbelievers to Himself.
4. We should prefer a nominally Christian culture to paganism because it allows for the church and Christian families to do their work more freely. While it is true that nominal Christian cultures tempt many churches and families to laziness and apathy, it is still better to raise children and disciple new Christians with the culture’s general approval and support than in hiding and under persecution. We should rather live in a culture that allows churches to meet, build buildings, for Christian schools to operate openly, and for evangelism to take place unhindered. Of course, God has often been pleased to require His people to work in less than ideal circumstances, and there are special blessings for those endeavors – the underground church in North Korea and China are no doubt sustained by God’s grace for this mission. Yet, Christians should generally prefer to work in relatively more accepting cultures. If we could press a button today and the only options were leave America as it currently is (the decomposing corpse of a Christian culture) and becoming North Korea, Christians should not willingly choose North Korea. We should of course be willing for God to choose that situation for us and rejoice in that assignment, but we should not willingly choose it unless we are convinced that it is for our good and the good of the Kingdom. All things being equal, we should choose less persecution, more freedom for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of meeting openly as a church, doing evangelism, Christian education, and carrying out the Great Commission. If missionaries arrive on an island where cannibalism is practiced, with particularly vigorous appetites for strangers bearing some new religion, the first order of business is to somehow convince the cannibals to adopt a form of Christian nominalism, at least long enough to hear the gospel. And the missionaries should feel no tinge of guilt whatever if they suspect that the cannibals are embracing Christian notions of due process without having accepted Christ as their Savior.