Welcome to Liminal Theology. A Space of Practical Theology for Exploring the Boundaries, Transitions, and the In-Between
Liminality is a threshold state where all we know becomes questionable. It lies on the boundary between the known and the unknown—with either being possible. Liminality is an awareness of the porous nature of knowability. Thus, liminal theology is a theology of uncertainty and transition. Consequently, this is not so much a position or a method as it is a perspective, one that takes seriously the mysterious nature of society, culture, and everyday life.
There is no rest for the thinker, save in the process of thinking.
– John Dewey
Liminal theology orients us toward the ever changing now—the state of continual transition. As such, liminal theology is an effort at highlighting those people, movements, and ideas that demonstrate this transition. Yet this work goes beyond intellectual curiosity. Liminal theology is the belief that our most exciting, significant, and profound discoveries await at the margins—the in-between. Therefore, doing liminal theology means learning from those who live within everyday life, especially those who push against injustice and inequality. Liminal theology orients us toward this excitement, particularly toward those who represent what is transitory in both society, culture, and intellectual thought.
Being both a way of thinking and acting, liminal theology is a process of engaging thinkers, ideas, and social groups that don’t normally dialogue with one another. It’s an engagement with those on the periphery. Liminal theology is a search for those that represent and demonstrate both transitional-thinking and action-oriented work within society—especially the marginalized, transitional, and irreligious.
A Way Forward for Practical Theology
Liminal theology is a continuation of practical theology. Drawing from the practical theological paradigm that theology should be both experiential and action-oriented, liminal theology continues this work by engaging with those “below” and those in-between. Therefore, liminal theology continues practical theology through emphasizing those people, movements, and ideas that represent the transitional and the in-between. Furthermore, both are areas of revelation in liminal theology. Meaning that transition and the in-between offers us important opportunities for understanding God’s work in the world. More importantly, these areas constitute occasions for building upon and continuing the mission of Christ in a world that so desperately needs a renewed sense of hope, purpose, and love.
Liminal theology re-thinks practical theology in terms of flux, tension, and change. Thus, liminal theology is a recognition of the future waiting to be made—we are in transition, but to what we do not know. As such, liminal theology is an acknowledgment and embrace of our own lack of clarity. Liminal theology represents a radical choice for the present moment. Therefore, it’s always contemporary, neither retreating into the past nor dreaming of a perfect future. Instead it orients us toward the mystery of God within the ever-changing now.
Transition, In-Between, and Justice
Liminal theology also advocates for those in-between—the forgotten and the marginalized. Moreover, the work of liminal theology is one that continually reminds us that justice and equality should never become stagnated. Liminal theology is a warning against a premature declaration of justice and equality for all. The idea “for all” is a growing concept that cannot be declared complete until it truly is for all people. Liminality is the tension between the call for true justice and equality and that pull of injustice that plagues our current conceptions of these terms. Liminality suggests that justice and equality are not fixed terms, but progressive moments that push us to rethink, reconsider, and reevaluate what true justice and equality looks like.
Liminality as Possibility—Redefining the Present
Liminal theology is an exploration of the possible within the present. Within liminality, the present resists easy definitions and parameters. Thus, the liminal present cannot simply be described by a single point of view, system, or doctrine. Such descriptions paint the present as either this or that, which inevitably ignores the views, objections, and dreams of those at the margins. A liminal present opens the possibility for change, moreover, it carries the hope that past sufferings should not define the future. Such possibilities include choices for real concrete changes in the areas of social and economic justice, racial and cultural liberation, and expanding democratic freedoms. As such, possibility is a choice for a better present—the present of today and tomorrow. The present, seriously considered, is a liminal state of radical openness. Consequently, liminality resists the condemnation of the past by continually remaking the present.
Therefore, liminal theology is theological action and reflection that seeks the possibilities of the present—possibilities typically discarded or ignored as impossible, impractical, or unfeasible. Furthermore, liminal theology represents a willingness to act within the risk of faith. This is a faith that acts not with an assured confidence but with a searching doubt. A searching doubt readily acknowledges that the path ahead is unclear and that progress isn’t always self-evident. Therefore, the present is a place of work and effort, where God’s activity is not restricted to either the past or future. Thus, the present is the space of God’s continual grace, comfort, and love—especially for those living at the margins (the in-between).
The present is liminal—always in transition toward an unknown future. And as the present changes, so must our theological understanding. Liminal theology doesn’t wait for the future, but instead considers the now as a place of God’s manifestation and presence. Simply put, liminal theology is a present-minded theology that explores God’s work within the transitional and in-between as it unfolds within contemporary life and community.