A Review of
Nothing But The Blood: The Gospel According To Dexter
Paperback: Gray Matter Press, 2012
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by David Nash
If you do not know Dexter Morgan, then perhaps you should meet him. Dexter inhabits Showtime on Sunday night television, where he has lived for the past six years. Dexter is a forensic blood splatter analyst who works for the fictitious Miami-Metro Police Department; in his spare time, he is a serial killer who preys on other murderers who have escaped the justice system.
Zach Hoag introduces Dexter as the representative of “Every Person” in the early 21st century in the United States. If the 1950’s and the 1960’s were the “Age of Anxiety” as defined and described by Paul Tillich and Rollo May, then the early decades of this century could be the “The Age of Brokenness” with Dexter as the Representative Person for our age. The human cycle of desire and bloodshed is primitive in its genesis, and it afflicts us still.
Dexter is a broken man, one who anguishes over the deep emptiness within his soul. He is haunted by the Dark Passenger, as Dexter refers to his inner voice, the urge to murder someone who “deserves it.” He does his killing in a particularly gruesome manner. For Dexter, the act of murder becomes a “righteous ritual,” making the world “right again.” Not only is Dexter a killer, but he is a serial killer, cleansing the world of “injustice.”
For those who have not seen the television program, Hoag reviews the characters in the story and describes the plot as it has developed over the past six years. For those who are followers of the Dexter program, members of the “Dexter Cult” which continues to grow each year, Hoag’s description serves as a reminder of how the story plot thickens with each year, and how the moral character of the cast of people develops within the storyline.
*** Watch Dexter
Hoag’s presentation, however, differs from the standard chronological summary. Hoag organizes the chapters in his book along moral and theological themes. A few of the themes are more complete than others, but they all will come to fulfillment during the final two years scheduled for the television program. Within each chapter of his book, Hoag roams back and forth through the six years of programming. He shows how the people in the television series develop within the moral struggles they face and the choices that each one makes.
Hoag’s analysis begins with the brokenness of Dexter and the realization that “something new is needed.” Next, he traces how the emptiness and violence moves for the innocence and simplicity of rural areas to the sophistication and complexity of urban life which includes everyone and every place. Hoag explores why “Dexter is out for blood,” as Dexter believes that in some way the blood that he spills in his murderous activity is all about the “atonement of sin.”In a strong chapter, Hoag shows that the “Gospel is nothing less than Real” for human life today. Finally, for Dexter and all of us, living in a redemptive and restoring community of active love is what ultimately matters.
Hoag makes the case that Dexter’s “Dark Defender” is present within all of us. As violent as Dexter is, and as often as he makes us cringe, the “Dark Defender” motivates us to seek a kind of “justice” which takes the form of vengeance. Acts of violence appear to abound in my hometown among “good” people as well as throughout the world. As a person of faith who seeks peace, un-Christian thoughts arose in my heart after my son’s home was robbed earlier this year. Just beneath one’s faith and culture lurk the spirit of violence. There is something within us that seeks retribution. “The blood answers the problem of a world spinning out of control, a world that must be set right again.” (126)
Yet, even in the first episode of Dexter, Hoag finds a dim light of hope barely shining for Dexter for his brokenness. The light continues to shine throughout the six years of the television program. Hoag anticipates in the chapter “Blood is all over the atonement” that by the end of the eighth season, Dexter will see that light and begin to live within it. But we will have to wait for that. Meanwhile, the hope of redemption continues to grow. The title of the book comes from a verse of a Gospel hymn: “What can wash away my sin?/ Nothing but the blood of Jesus./ What can make me whole within?/ Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Eugene O’Neill echoes this thought: “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”
In the last chapter of his book, Hoag surprisingly leads the reader to consider that the broken Dexter is, indeed, the leader of a broken community of people related to him. That community slowly moves away from retributive justice toward a restorative justice. The shape of the community becomes more redemptive as Dexter finds his way to being restored himself.
Just as Dexter matters (chapter 1 and 2), so the community matters. It is a different community, under the leadership of the light of Jesus, in which a person discovers one’s true self. Hoag discusses what the Christian community may look like in our time. A “becoming-truly-human politic,” that is, a community, that “may inhabit the world communally with the very disposition of Christ Himself.” (quote from David E. Fitch, The End of Evangelicalism) Hoag expands on what the community of Jesus would look like in our world today. In the last analysis, it comes down to “Love God … Love your neighbor “… We are all broken people… Broken people with a Father who loves us.”
Nothing but the Blood is a jewel of a book which deserves a wide reading, especially among the under forty year old group. There is much to commend the book. Hoag is a grand storyteller, moving along the boundary of pop-culture and the Gospel story, with a cutting edge critique of culture. His conversational style gives the reader the feeling of sitting in a chair next to him while he recounts the story. At times his writing is poetical. He writes with knowledge and passion. Zach Hoag fills his book with extensive quotes from the six years of Dexter episodes to carry the story forward. Nothing But The Blood is a tract for our times. The author is a working pastor, planting a new church called Dwell (dwellchurch.org).