Low Anthropology

The Unlikely Key to a Gracious View of Others (and Yourself)

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"A lighthearted yet high-minded exploration of failure's ability to serve as a gateway to grace. Readers will find this a balm."--Publishers Weekly

Many of us spend our days feeling like we're the only one with problems, while everyone else has their act together. But the sooner we realize that everyone struggles like we do, the sooner we can show grace to ourselves and others.

In Low Anthropology, popular author and theologian David Zahl explores how our ideas about human nature influence our expectations in friendship, work, marriage, and politics. We all go through life with an "anthropology"--an idea about what humans are like, our potentials and our limitations. A high anthropology--thinking optimistically about human nature--can breed perfectionism, anxiety, burnout, loneliness, and resentment. Meanwhile, Zahl invites readers into a biblically rooted and surprisingly life-giving low anthropology, which fosters hope, deep connection with others, lasting love, vulnerability, compassion, and happiness.

Zahl offers a liberating view of human nature, sin, and grace, showing why the good news of Christianity is both urgent and appealing. By embracing a more accurate view of human beings, readers will discover a true and lasting hope.


1. The Problem of High Anthropology
Part 1: The Shape of Low Anthropology
2. Limitation: Or, Modesty Is the Best Policy
3. Doubleness: Or, Can't Stop Won't Stop
4. Self-centeredness: Or, Control Freaks Anonymous
Part 2: The Mechanics of Low Anthropology
5. How We Avoid Low Anthropology
6. The Fruit of Low Anthropology
Part 3: The Life of Low Anthropology
7. Low Anthropology and the Self
8. Low Anthropology in Relationships
9. Low Anthropology in Politics
10. Low Anthropology in Religion


"A remarkably perceptive, funny, subversive, and nourishing book that hasn't left my mind since I read it. David Zahl shows that transformation--and the kind of hope we can actually rely on--isn't to be found in the oppressive perfectionism of self-improvement but rather in accepting the liberating truth that we're all flawed, finite, prone to overconfidence and messing things up, and in need of forgiveness."

Oliver Burkeman, New York Times bestselling author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

"This is the book I have been waiting for: an antidote to all the self-help nonsense that weighs down our bookshelves and our self-regard. I feel lighter, freer, and less alone with every word I read in Zahl's brilliant and truthful Low Anthropology."

Nadia Bolz-Weber, author of Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

"I know of few people better equipped to cut through the religious noise of our day than David Zahl, and this book is no exception. While we're constantly being told to think better and expect more of ourselves, Zahl provides a counterintuitive take. He shows us that there's goodness in being merely human, and there's great humor to be found in it too."

Mike Cosper, author and director of podcasts at Christianity Today

"Low Anthropology stands as a refreshing and much-needed antidote to our cultural fixation on achievement and self-optimization, and it is brimming with insights that feel both timely and timeless. At a moment when religious concepts like original sin are often misunderstood as vehicles of pessimism and shame, Zahl brilliantly reveals the paradoxical nature of this humbler understanding of human nature, demonstrating how it can become an avenue toward radical compassion, acceptance, and grace."

Meghan O'Gieblyn, author of God, Human, Animal, Machine

"As we mature in our faith, we can become less tolerant of those who make poor decisions because of their hopeless state. When I look at anyone who is challenged daily, I am reminded of the grace Christ afforded me. I am grateful for the unburdening words of hope that David Zahl offers in Low Anthropology."

John Mosley, head basketball coach, East Los Angeles College; star of Last Chance U: Basketball

The Author

  1. David Zahl
    © Kristen Finn

    David Zahl

    David Zahl is the founder and director of Mockingbird Ministries, editor in chief of the Mockingbird blog, and cohost of the Mockingcast podcast. He is the author of Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance...

    Continue reading about David Zahl


"In this probing and spirited guide, [Zahl] contends that readers should be more candid and forgiving of their shortcomings. . . . The fresh and unexpectedly positive take on sin and pride makes for a lighthearted yet high-minded exploration of failure's ability to serve as a gateway to grace. Readers will find this a balm."

Publishers Weekly

"Seasoned with the perfect amount of humor, deep cultural fluency, and a breezy style, Zahl clearly knows he is contending for a counterintuitive notion: that a 'lower' vision of ourselves is actually what leads to liberation, joyful anticipation of how one could grow and change, and even love for the other. . . . Low Anthropology truly is good news, for every reader, but especially so for those of us who work in ministry. . . . Correcting our anthropology could be the key for many pastors to stay in the vocation for the long haul, and this is crucial, because the healthy local church, equipped with a Zahlsian low anthropology, is precisely where I want to be."

Joel Wentz,

Englewood Review of Books

"I find much to commend in David Zahl's newest work. . . . Zahl does an exceptional job of conveying difficult truths with grace and humor. His writing evinces a pastoral heart. His claims are made even more compelling by the wealth of anecdotes that he provides, drawing widely from both scholarly publications and popular culture to illustrate his points. . . . There is much honest, redemptive truth contained within these pages, and I can enthusiastically recommend this book as a springboard for personal and communal reflection."

Matthew Stuhlmuller,

Christian Century

"[Zahl] persistently sings the song of grace for souls languishing under a weight of perceived expectations. His new book sings this song in a new key, sensitively attuned, as always, to the cultural indications that people are yearning for such a song. . . . Zahl has a gentle and affable way in this book of inviting a nevertheless incisive and therefore ultimately healing self-examination, for which the reader will be grateful."

The Rev. Mac Stewart,

The Living Church

"I encourage you to read David Zahl's Low Anthropology for yourself. Better yet, read it with others. It is a wise, witty, and well-written book."

George P. Wood,

Influence Magazine