The Church in Three Dimensions

Rich Lusk


These are lecture notes from a talk I gave at the Auburn Avenue Pastor's Conference in 2006, but I believe they are more relevant now than when I first delivered them. I argue that when we consider the church's relationship with culture, we must remember it is a dynamic and fluid, not fixed and static, relationship. How the church relates to the culture depends largely on the shape that culture is in, how idolatrous it is, and how discipled it is. My point is that we can look at the church in three dimensions -- and at any given time one of these dimensions may need to feature more prominently than the others. The audio for this talk can be found here; the rest of my talks from that conference can be found on this page.


  1. The church as culture
  • Christianity cannot be reduced to a mere ideology, philosophy, or world view (even though it includes all those things); because Christianity is not merely a “doctrine” but a “life,” it is inherently incarnational
  • The church’s relationship to the world is the relationship of one culture to another; biblical religion is not a layer added to the life of a “natural man” (1 Cor. 2), but is rooted in the new creation (2 Cor. 5)
  • The church has her own way of life, embodying her distinctive story in symbols, rituals, language, ethics, and community; conversion and discipleship are a matter of re-socialization/enculturation into the kingdom (analogous to the military)
  • The church is the new Israel; just as God formed Israel into a distinct culture, so he forms the church
  1. The church as counter-culture
  • The church's relationship to culture outside the church is fluid, not static, so the church's relationship to the wider society in which she finds herself depends on how deeply that culture has been discipled; given the widespread unfaithfulness and apostasy in our day, the church must function as a counter-culture
  • While we share cultural space with unbelievers, we inhabit that space in a different way; the church as counter-culture is seen most clearly in gathered worship
  • The church is an alternative city, nation, and kingdom, existing within the cities, nations, and kingdoms of the world, modeling for them human life as God intended, living as a colony of heaven on earth
  • As counter-culture, the church will often have to have contempt for those things the world considers “cool” or “relevant”
  1. The church as the transformer of culture
  • The church transforms the world through living as God's royal priesthood, suffering and serving for the sake of the nations, in love and humility, following the way of the cross in the power of the Spirit
  • The church is intrinsically political (preaching, prayer, discipline, etc.); thus, the most important contribution she can make to a renewed social order is simply to be a renewed social order
  • The formation of discipled nations (that is, societies which are “attentive” to the Triune God, his Word, and the church) is integral to the church's mission in the world (Mt. 28); though the church does not take up the sword or seize civil power, discipling nations ultimately includes the transformation and maturation of civil government (along with every other facet of life)
  • Because the gospel is public truth, the church cannot be content as a subculture; instead, she is God’s “super-culture”
  • The church must seek to reveal the King and the kingdom to the world through ministry in word and deed (1 Pt. 2; Mt. 11)
  • The church is called to fight the “holy war” behind the “culture wars,” using the distinctive weapons God has granted her; the world has no counterpunch to these offensive weapons