Theology Stellenbosch



Senior Lecturer in Practical Theology, Ministerial Practice

Tel: +27 21 808 9094 | Fax: +27 21 808 3251 | Email


Ian Nell grew up in Potchefstroom and matriculated from Hoër Volkskool in 1979. He studied at North West University and the University of the Free State and completed his doctoral studies at the University of Pretoria. He worked as minister in three Dutch Reformed Church congregations (Bloemfontein, Amanzimtoti and Durbanville) , for 20 years. During his years in full-time ministry he was involved in various Synodical and Ecumenical activities, including serving on the Examination Board and Curatorium of the Dutch Reformed Church in the Western Cape and on the Executive Board of the Diakonia Council of Churches in Natal. He was appointed as Senior Lecturer in Practical Theology at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, in July 2007.

Ian is married to Judy Müller and they have two children, Elzette (first-year student at the SU) and Guillaume (grade 12 learner in Paul Roos Gymnasium). He is a keen sportsman, and enjoys spending time with friends in the beautiful mountains surrounding Stellenbosch.


Career, Degrees, Qualifications

BA, Honns BA (North West Univ), MA, B Th, M Th (Univ of Free State), DD (Univ of Pretoria)



Theology is his passion, and he sees being involved in theological education at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University,and teaching Christian leaders for the future as his vocation. Fifteen years (2009) after the first democratic elections in South Africa and birth of the post-Apartheid era, Christian leaders and faith communities face many (global and local) challenges. As a practical theologian he is interested in the branch of Christian theology that seeks to construct action-guiding theories of Christian praxis within the specific context of South Africa and Africa. In the construction of these theories the focus is on four separate but mutually influential tasks, ie: the descriptive-empirical, the interpretive, the normative and the pragmatic. He approaches these tasks making use of a theo-dramatic paradigm as frame of reference. This paradigm, which works with the central metaphor of drama, helps him to reflect critically on the stage (cultural hermeneutics), the script (text of the Bible), the plot (Christopraxis in various forms) and the different roles that faithful people, including Christian leaders, play in this plot. The way in which he applies this paradigm and approaches the tasks is profoundly influenced by the Reformed Tradition in which he grew up and was trained.

Research Areas

The first area of interest,is cultural hermeneutics – in which he endeavours to understand South African society and the global influences on our society as the context in which faith communities and their leaders have to operate. In recent publications he tried to contextualize his research within the challenges facing the African continent and specifically South Africa. His research takes place within the broader framework of the SU’s Overarching Strategic Plan (OSP) which endeavours to progress “from success to significance”, within a “pedagogy of hope” , focusing on millennium goals. The Faculty of Theology has chosen to concentrate on combating pandemic poverty and maintaining and promoting human dignity. Film and drama, also as a teaching medium, is an emerging discipline in the field of practical theology. Ian is very interested in this research area, especially in the manner in which contextual films reinterpret the gospel message within local South African settings.

The second area of interest is a specific focus on the way in which faith communities as communities of practice operate within the mentioned context. From a theodramatic point of view the interest is in the “plot” of faith communities, trying to analyse and understand “faithful performances of enacting the Christian Tradition” (congregational hermeneutics). The research includes doing contextual, identity and process analysis of faith communities by making use of different methodologies from the social sciences. In this regard he is part of a NRF-approved project on “religious ritual and social capital formation”. This research also includes focusing on the role of faith communities as “stock of social capital” and the role of these communities in social development. Apart from liturgy and ritual he is also interested in homiletics (see published articles), theological education and formation, community formation and the diaconal activities of faith communities as part of the performances of faith communities.

The third focus is on leadership development. Our country is in desperate need of ethical leadership. Leaders as “directors” in the God-human drama also play an important part in social capital formation and transformational leadership (the role of rhetoric) in times of change, transition, liminality and discontinuity with the past. Leadership offers many opportunities to manage creative tension in the space between vision and reality. According to emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu “lack of ethical leadership” is one of the biggest challenges facing our young democracy. Ian also has a keen interest in the important role of “service learning”, the integration of theory and praxis during the under-graduate years, in the process of educating students to become Christian leaders.



  1. Practical Theology 114 – An introductory course to practical theology during the first year of study.

  2. M Div – He coordinates this course, and also teaches various modules in the course, including an introduction to practical theological methodology, a practical theological ecclesiology and transformational leadership. He also takes responsibility for workshops on “Healing of Memories” and community interaction.

  3. M Th in Missional Leadership – modules on practical theological methodology.

  4. M Phil in Chaplaincy – a module on organization theory.


Selected Publications

  • Leaders lost in transition: A case study in leadership, ritual and social capital. Ned Geref Teologiese Tydskrif, 2009:50/1 & 2:160-170.

  • Come over to Macedonia and help us”: Missionary perspectives in the Epistle to the Philippians, in Du Plessis et al. Missionary Perspectives in the New Testament, 2009:217-228.

  • In search of meaning: Moving from the prophet’s voice to prophecy in community? A SA perspective. Paper delivered at the 8th meeting of the Societas Homiletica, Copenhage, Denmark, 20 – 25 June 2008. The theme of the conference is: In search of meaning: Does preaching make a difference? To be published in the next issue of Scriptura, Stellenbosch.

  • The Tears of Xenophobia: Preaching and violence from a South African perspective. Paper delivered at the meeting of the American Academy of Homiletics in Boston, Mass, from 20 – 22 November 2008. To be published in Practical Theology in South Africa.

  • In die gastehuis van die prediking: Preekvernuwing vanuit Bybelse en Gereformeerde wortels. To be published in the next issue of In die Skriflig.

  • Leadership in Acts through a social capital lens. Paper delivered at the Acts conference: “Missionary Church in Acts? A joint project of the Faculty of Theology of Stellenbosch and Communitas”. 18 – 20 May 2009.

  • Quo Vadis? Practical Theology. Paper delivered at the Quo Vadis conference on Theology at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University. To be published in the next issue of Scriptura, Stellenbosch.


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