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

"Human limitation has never looked as good as it does in David Zahl's Low Anthropology. This book 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 more humble 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 founder and director of Mockingbird Ministries, which receives more than 1 million website pageviews per year and has 35,000 newsletter subscribers and social media followers. He is editor in chief of the Mockingbird blog and cohost...

    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