Creatures of Possibility

The Theological Basis of Human Freedom

Cover Art Request Exam Copy

Where to Purchase

More Options


A Prominent Theologian Explores What It Means to Be Human

Preeminent scholar and theologian Ingolf Dalferth offers mature reflections on what it means to be human, a topic at the forefront of contemporary Christian thought. Dalferth argues that humans should be defined not as deficient beings--who must compensate for the weaknesses of their biological nature by means of technology, morals, media, religion, and culture--but as creatures of possibility. He understands human beings by reference to their capacity to live a truly humane life. Dalferth explores the sheer gratuitousness of God's agency in justifying and sanctifying the human person, defining humans not by what we do or achieve but by God's creative and saving action. In the gospel, we are set free to interact with the world and creation.

Preface to the 2016 English Edition
Preface to the 2011 German Edition
1. From Deficient Being to Beings of Possibility: An Introduction
2. Of Humanity and God: The Perspective of Reason and the Wider Perspective of Faith
3. Mere Passive: The Passivity of Gift in Luther's Theology
4. All for Nothing: On the Art of Giving and the Limitations of Gift
5. Self-Offering: From the Act of Violence to the Passion of Love
6. Becoming Human: Compensation for a Deficiency or Excess of Love?
7. Creative Passivity: The Self-Belittlement of Human Beings


"Few Protestant theologians today write with the authoritative grasp of the theological tradition that Ingolf Dalferth demonstrates in Creatures of Possibility. Fewer still are capable of bringing this tradition into such an extensive constructive and critical engagement with contemporary thought. Through a series of expositions of Luther, Marion, Derrida, Blumenberg, and Nietzsche, Dalferth shows that the Christian account of human beings as fundamentally passive is so far from being a conservative recoil in the face of modernity's promotion of autonomous rational agency as to be, instead, the founding charter of our creaturely creative possibilities. Creatures of Possibility will surely prove essential reading for anyone concerned with theological anthropology."

George Pattison, chair of divinity, University of Glasgow

"With impressive conceptual precision and insight, Dalferth explores how being created by God invites a deeper appreciation of human giftedness, possibility, and becoming. Christian faith is not a response to an experience of lack; instead, it is an exciting way (initiated by God) to relate to God, God's creation, my fellow human beings, and my own emerging self in this world. This is truly engaging theology."

Werner G. Jeanrond, University of Oxford

"In this brilliant and provocative study, Dalferth argues against the dominant (and tired) view of human nature as deficient to courageously reimagine what it means to be human in terms of possibility."

Regina Mara Schwartz, professor, Northwestern University

The Author

  1. Ingolf U. Dalferth

    Ingolf U. Dalferth

    Ingolf U. Dalferth (DrTheol, University of Tübingen) is Danforth Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. He is also professor emeritus in the faculty of theology at the University of Zurich, where he...

    Continue reading about Ingolf U. Dalferth


"A fresh and provocative perspective on human beings as creatures of passivity who are open to a future of possibilities. . . . This book is a work of intriguing philosophical and theological argumentation that attempts to overturn both the classical philosophical and theological understandings of the human being as a rational animal, and the modern understanding of the human as either a highly evolved animal and/or anxiety-induced, indeterminate wilful animal. Dalferth rightly replaces these reductionist accounts of the human with a more theologically holistic and innovative rendering of the human being as a creature of possibility that avoids the excesses of both classical and modern views of anthropology. Dalferth's prose is lucid and precise and his theological acumen is exemplary. He summarizes his interlocutor's arguments well and then exposes them as ultimately insufficient for and incompatible with the perspective of the human from the standpoint of Christian faith. I am grateful for Dalferth's retrieval of the human from purely secular paradigms--whether philosophical or biological--and resituating the doctrine of humanity within the realm of the doctrine of God."

Bradley M. Penner,

Reading Religion (AAR)