Van der Merwe, Willem Jacobus
Willem J. van der Merwe was a South African missiologist. Born near Ceres, South Africa, he studied theology at the University of Stellenbosch, Princeton Seminary, and the Kennedy School of Missions of the Hartford Seminary Foundation, where his Ph.D. dissertation was “The Development of Missionary Attitudes in the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa” (1936). From 1934 until 1958 he was a Dutch Reformed Church missionary in Zimbabwe, where he ended up as principal of the theological school at Morgenster. From 1952 to 1954 he served as president of the Southern Rhodesian Missionary Conference and as president of the Southern Rhodesian Christian Conference in 1954. From 1959 to 1974 he was professor of missiology at the University of Stellenbosch, and from 1975 to 1978 he served as principal of the Orumana Theological School in Namibia. In 1985 the University of Stellenbosch conferred on him an honorary doctorate in theology.
As professor of missiology at Stellenbosch and author of the missiological textbook, Gesante om Christus wil (1967), van der Merwe exercised great influence on missionary thinking and practice. From 1968 to 1971 he was the first chairperson of the Southern African Missiological Society. His ministry was characterized by strong pastoral and ecumenical concern. He also made a serious study of the religious and cultural life of the African people among whom he lived, as The Shona Idea of God (1957) illustrates. His last major work was From Mission Field to Autonomous Church in Zimbabwe (1981).
Sendinggenade (1986), a Festschrift edited by J. du Preez, C. M. Pauw, and P. J. Robinson, contains a complete bibliography of all van der Merwe’s books and articles.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.