Keller: Getting past the Tower of Babel

Jacoby Nielsen's depiction of the Tower of Babel at

Where does racism come from? Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice, says the beginning is chronicled in Genesis 11.

The story of the Tower of Babel “tells us that the people of earth were marked with pride and a lust for power,” so God “confused their speech.” They then could no longer “understand each other or work together and as a result they scattered into different nations.”

This perspective bothered me a bit when I first read it. It seemed to imply that God is to blame for racism, though that obviously was not Keller’s intent. The author, in fact, points back before God’s action.

Here would be the simplified flow of the logic: Pride and lust for power, then God’s response, then lack of understanding and ability to work together, then scattering. So, racism is not God’s fault; it’s the fault of pride and lust for power. Keller doesn’t go into that stream of logic, but it’s implied and I needed to follow the path more clearly.

Keller’s summary point is that “human pride and lust for power leads to racial and national division, strife, and hatred.” (p.121)

So what difference does grace make with regard to racism? And I love the following part of Keller’s point:

“According to 1 Peter 2:9, Christians are a ‘new ethnic.’ … In Christ our racial and cultural identities, while not insignificant, are no longer primary to our self-understanding.” (p.122)

It seems to me we have two realities related to race in our churches. There is the old stench of racism that looks down upon those who are different, and then there is the ethno-centric mindset that refuses to embrace a Christ identity that is greater and more important than any ethnic bloodline. It is much more important that I see myself as Christian than as Anglo, though I still know the latter is true. Christ would have me transcend my Anglo heritage and attach to His.

May we all really come together in Christ and not allow what differentiates us to separate us. May we no longer babel, but speak the one cultural language of Christ.

(This is my sixth post on Keller’s book. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)

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