From a very young age, Scott Seay knew that he was called to be a teacher. Whether in the churches, an undergraduate college, or in seminary, he has pursued that vocation with vigor.
Now he is settled in his alma mater, doing what he loves to do. “At Christian Theological Seminary, every day I get to teach and learn, doing it all the while in service of the church. I love it!” Seay says.
Graduating from Wabash College with a degree in English literature, Seay went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School in New Testament and Christian origins. Influenced most by the tradition of narrative theology, he is convinced that communities of faith form around a common story that gives them life and purpose.
“Whatever else the church may do,” Seay says, “at the very least it is a community that confesses a common faith in God’s self-revelation in the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Naturally, Seay discerned a call to ordained ministry. After earning his M.Div. at Christian Theological Seminary, he was ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and served as interim minister to several congregations in Ohio and Indiana. Since 2008, he had been the pastor—or, teaching elder—at Brown County Presbyterian Fellowship in Nashville, Indiana.
While in seminary, Seay developed a passion for the history of Christianity, particularly in colonial North America and the United States. He earned a third master’s degree in historical studies and a Ph.D. in American religious history from Vanderbilt University, where his work focused on the New England Puritans. His first book, published in 2009, is a study of “execution sermons” that were preached in connection with public hangings.
“It’s a morbidly fascinating topic,” Seay explains. “But it’s not so much about the gruesome details of public execution as it is about how communities of faith made theological sense out of crime and punishment. Certainly that is a topic of great relevance for communities of faith today.”
Indeed, in all of the classes that Seay teaches at CTS, students don’t study history for history’s sake. Rather, they study history to learn how the people of the past made sense of their faith and their world, and what we can learn about our own from them.
Seay recently collaborated with thirteen other historians to produce the first global, inclusive history of the Stone-Campbell Movement, the early 19th-century revival tradition out of which the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and several other groups emerge. “The book stresses the internal diversity and global expansion of the Movement, while not losing sight of its emphasis on essential Christian unity,” he says.
His work puts Seay at the ground-level of history, too. He also serves as the curator of the seminary’s rich collection of rare books, manuscripts, and historical artifacts. This “stuff of history” as he calls it makes possible the crafting and re-telling of a responsible story of the past. If he’s not in the classroom or the church teaching, he can be found in the archives with a 300-year-old book in his hand.
Seay sums up his philosophy of teaching like this: “Without an awareness of the past, without a clear-eyed perspective on the history that shapes us, pastors will have little success in leading the church into the future to which God is calling us.”