Lance Green is lecturer in theology and adventure at YTI. He holds an M.A. from Luther Seminary, and this fall will begin work on his Ph.D. in theology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Lance is married to Rachel Toombs, who is Professor of Theology and Old Testament at YTI.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Bend, Oregon, which is a lot like Bozeman, but bigger. The outdoor life dominates everything. Mountain biking, gravel grinding, and hiking are my life-blood. Generally, I just love being in the wilderness. It’s essential to my faith as well. I was baptized into the Lutheran Church, but didn’t really take hold of my faith until right before I graduated high school. College is when things really came together for me; I fell in love with the tough questions, wrestling with doubts, and engaging in discussion. I really feel like my Ph.D., which I begin in September, is an extension of all the themes I encountered when I started my education. It’s been my dream to help students wrestle with their own questions—to push through their own doubts. YTI is a fantastic opportunity to not only do this, but integrate all my passions with the classroom. I’m not sure anywhere else on Earth would let me do this.
What excites you about moving to the Northern Rockies?
Because my wife was doing a Ph.D. in Waco, at Baylor, we’d been living in a culture that I’ve not really felt at home in. I grew up in Oregon and had received most of my theological education in places that are predominantly secular, so I feel quite at home as a Christian in secular places. I’m someone who accidentally finds himself in conversations with strangers, and I’ve noticed that I come a little bit more alive when there are people who just fundamentally disagree with each other on questions pertaining to God and religion, and we can all sit down and have a beer and hash it out. Beyond that, the number of mountain bike trails, gravel roads, and various mountains to hike make Bozeman an absolutely perfect place for me. It feels like Eden.
What does your job look like as “Lecturer in Theology and Adventure”?
When we think about adventure, we immediately assume a recreational understanding of the word. Buying a mountain bike, hiking gear, learning to rock climb. You know, getting outside and just doing epic stuff. But there isn’t anything particularly theological about this. So I took some ideas from Jay, the president of YTI, and decided that we needed to put the definition of adventure on its head, essentially sourcing an older, more original interpretation of the word. The word originally implied the risk of losing control, which I think has a lot of theological implications. My mind immediately turns to Moses’ encounter with God on Sinai. Like, God saturates the senses so much that Moses loses control; he is kind of swept up by the divine presence. This, I think, is the ultimate adventure. The ultimate loss of control. So, I get to facilitate experiences for students to encounter God outside, whether the mountains or the garden, so that they can better interpret creation and our relationship to it. I want to learn with the students how to live holistically. But combined with these outings are readings to help focus the mind, and foster a truly Christian approach to the outdoors and to the land. My intention is to help students, faculty, and staff see the full scope of the Christian life.
Your wife, Rachel Toombs, will also be serving on the YTI faculty as Professor of Theology and Old Testament. What is it like to look forward to teaching together?
It’s actually a really unique experience. The ability for an academic couple to work in the same institution is pretty fantastic. Rachel and I actually share quite a bit of our bibliography. Specifically, we’re interested in Christian mysticism and ressourcement theologians. At the same time, we have really divergent interests. I think the ways that we diverge actually make a pretty holistic and complete way of doing theology, which is great. In a sense we, as two members of the faculty, will provide very different approaches to how theology is done. So the very fact that my wife and I will get to teach in the same institution is a huge gift, and I think it’s even more fun knowing that we think differently about a lot of different things, and I really believe that’s going to provide more of a holistic experience in the classroom.
What draws you to the YTI vision?
The first big thing is that YTI really wants to engage in a faithful, critical, and rigorous theological dialogue. The interest is not engaging in cultural wars but rather facilitating discussions—at the pub, at the coffee shop, through small lectures, in the classroom—in these ways that are made a little bit more tactile and embodied, ways that actually impact people’s lives. YTI is interested in fostering real discussion, and one of the ways it wants to do that is by showing multiple paradigms. Not everyone who works here is going to have the same theological affirmations or come from the same culture. But what’s so great is that we understand that what centers us is our relationship to Christ. That doesn’t let us get rid of differences, but talk about them honestly, and then have really fruitful, helpful discussion in the midst of that. YTI is also committed to having a holistic approach to theology. We want to do dogmatics and systematic theology, but we also want to make sure we’re doing ethics, and we want to make sure that we care about Scripture. And then from there, art and literature, and getting outside into the wilderness. I mean, these are all usually really distinct and separate ways in which people want to talk about and deal with religion, and YTI says, “Oh yeah, we need to do all of this at once. We need to do systematics, we need to do art, we need to do literature, we need to look at the history of interpretation and the multi-faceted ways in which Scripture has been dealt with. We need to integrate all of this into larger paradigm.” This is truly exciting stuff. And this is going to provide a much deeper and robust—and I think critical and rigorous—way of teaching theology. And I think the fact that this is sort of second nature to YTI is what makes it so compelling.