I'm flying to London tomorrow for my Viva, held Thursday at Oxford Centre for Missions Studies. This is the "oral exam" part of my doctoral work. I ignored advice to do something "managable" in my thesis, threw caution to the wind, and attempted to construct a "map" of world religions from an orthodox, biblical perspective, internally consistent and of sweeping explanatory power. The dissertation focuses on the work of one of the leaders of the Democracy Movement back in 1989, a young philosopher named Yuan Zhiming, who later became a Christian and tried to interpret Chinese tradition from the perspective of the Gospel -- much as some early Christians did with schools of Greco-Roman thought. Along the way, I carefully examine two great sermons (by Jesus, on the Mount, and by Paul, on Mars Hill) to develop a model of religions called Fulfillment Theology. (Though I'm only allowed to use one "l" in the first word, this being a British thesis). Then I retell the story of Chinese Christianity from this (to me very exciting) perspective, touching on such great figures as Jing Jing, the Nestorian priest, Mateo Ricci and lesser-known colleagues, and some of the most thoughtful Christians in China, Western and Chinese, during the 19th and 20th Century. Since people who think this way have usually focused on the theism of the ancient Chinese classics, and what classical sages like Confucius and Lao Zi said about a Savior, this also allowed me to study the Chinese classics. Getting back to Chinese culture, and its relationship to Christianity, felt like being a kid in a candy store.
The External Examiner is an eminent Catholic theologian of religions, who is also one of my dialogue partners in the thesis. It should be an exciting day.
This is the most ambitious work I have attempted, to date: I feel (to speak subjectively, not to compare myself) much as Kepler must have felt, when he discovered how planets orbit the sun. Great pieces of an enormous puzzle seem to have come together over the past five (really thirty) years. I also feel a little like Kepler's mother must have, just before she was hauled into court on a charge of witchcraft.