Same is same. Not exactly. In common conversation we know how same can mean different things. Unfortunately we’re a lot more adept at talking to each other about daily life than talking to each other about God, and tend to make all sorts of inexact absolutes when it comes to talk about God.
Why? Because we’re very protective about God and wouldn’t want wrong things said about him. Which is a funny thing for someone who has specialized in talk about God. Because people say all sorts of wrong things about God in all sorts of places.
Talk about God is a bit like traffic laws, if a person wants to find something wrong, they’ll find something to charge you with.
That’s my continuing frustration with the situation at Wheaton. I can understand both what Dr. Hawkins meant and why people are outraged by what they think she meant. What I don’t understand is how Wheaton College–a premier academic institution–was unable to do the same.
The same, there’s that word again. Some examples came to mind the other day of how same is same but not the same as every same. We mean something different by “same”. Yet we find a way not to get outraged by each other or insist a person means one thing when they intended another.
I often drive the same car as Amy. It’s a Subaru Outback. Before we got our Outback, we drove a Honda Civic. She drove the civic, I drove the civic, it was the same Civic. Now I drive that Civic still when I commute to work. Same Civic. She rarely drives that car now, but when we look at pictures of road trips we talk about driving the Civic. The same Civic I drive now. Same is same. We had some friends at Fuller who had the same car, a Honda Civic. Not our car, of course, I mean it was also a Civic.
We were in a parking lot a while back and Amy pointed out a Subaru that was a 2007 champagne colored outback. Same car that we own. So, I got out and took it home. No, I’m just kidding. It was the same car, but not our car.
If I said to someone that I have the same car, they wouldn’t assume that I meant we share the same exact car in the way my wife and I have the same car. We know what we mean when we use the same word to describe different kinds of sameness.
Same, but different. “Same” can have a range of meanings.
Back in the 80s, my family had a tan colored Outback that we drove all the time. Same car as I own now, but a different year. Well, not the same car of course; same make and same model, but that car finally died in the 90s and my dad got rid of it. It was an Outback, we own an Outback now.
I got the same car for my family! Only it’s not the same car, but you know what I mean. Because we know that same can mean different things depending on the context. When I told my dad we got the same car, an Outback, he didn’t assume I meant that I hunted down the same exact Outback my family owned in the 1980s.
Did Dr. Hawkins mean there are no differences between Islam and Christianity? No. Did she conflate the theology of the two? No. Same can mean same when we’re talking about a similar set of properties and history, even as there may be quite a bit of difference between two actual examples. Absolutely. We do it all the time.
My 2007 Outback is very different than the 1980s Outback of my parents, and I imagine a new Outback is yet still different than theirs or mine. But it’s the same car even if I can’t walk onto a car lot and drive away a brand new one. “But I have this same car!” I could tell the salesman. No, no you don’t, he would reply.
I did tell the salesman when I bought our 2007 that we had the same car when I was younger. He knew I didn’t mean the exact car on his lot that we were trying to buy. That would be silly if I had to clarify that I meant the same model not the same car.
We’re a lot more generous to each other when we talk about cars. What about a more serious topic? Star Wars.
Same Millennium Falcon is in both the original trilogy and the new Star Wars. Same is exactly the same. I liked they didn’t try to modernize the electronics. It looks exactly the same. Same is same.
Luke Skywalker is the main character in the original trilogy. In the early 90s, Timothy Zahn wrote a series of Star Wars novels that took place after the time of Return of the Jedi, called the Thrawn triology. Luke Skywalker is a character. Same character as in the original trilogy.
The new movies aren’t based on the Zahn novels nor any previously published story set in the Star Wars universe. Luke Skywalker is in the new movie, the same Luke Skywalker who is in the original trilogies. The same character who is in the Zahn books.
But that’s impossible because the new movie is very different than the books. Luke Skywalker is in both, but isn’t the same, because it’s a different story, with different events and revelations.
The new movies supersede any books. The movies are called canon. Here’s a bit from Wikipedia:
The Star Wars canon is what is officially regarded as “canonical”, or officially part of a story, in the Star Wars media franchise. The official Star Wars canon consists of the six released Star Wars theatrical feature films, the Star Wars animated film and television series The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, and every other material released after April 25, 2014, unless otherwise stated.
So, the Zahn books have the same Luke Skywalker as in the original trilogy but are not considered canon. The official telling of Star Wars uses the movie. But, if someone were to read the Zahn books now they wouldn’t be wrong in saying that it’s the same Luke Skywalker.
Same but not exactly the same. Same, but still having varying qualities of accuracy. Same, but one is considered true and one is considered extra-canonical. Both share the qualities of being a telling of Star Wars. One is right, the other is now not right. One is canon, one is not. But it’s the same characters in both. Same but different. Same even as one is better and the official telling of the character. I appreciate the way Zahn told the story but the Star Wars universe now doesn’t have Thrawn or Mara Jade or those force draining Ysalamiri. Luke Skywalker is a character but does different things and acts in different ways and responds to different situations than in the new movie. This is only going to get more different as more movies are released.
Different Luke Skywalker? Yes, but no. Luke is the same, but there is a different revelation about what Luke Skywalker said and did. We can speak about sameness while acknowledging there is a canonical version in contrast to other versions. Same while different.
When Dr. Hawkins says there is a same God, she was not speaking with theological rigor but in common parlance of a shared history and understanding. There’s a perception of a same quality of God’s being, even as God is actually rather different in Islam and Christianity. Which is why I don’t see Dr. Hawkins as violating the Statement of Beliefs at Wheaton and think it rather anti-intellectual for Wheaton to accuse her of doing so. We can, and should, have conversations about the differences between Islam and Christianity in both practice and theology. The revelation of Jesus makes a radical difference and the understanding of God as Trinity is vitally important.
Though, of course, if you asked the great majority of Christians to describe the Trinity, they’d likely fall into one of the classical heresies. Even if they claim to be theologically conservative, they wouldn’t be talking about the exact same God as the one the church believes in.
Maybe that’s why I hear Dr. Hawkins statement with a lot of grace and respect the attitude and purpose in which it was said. People say all sorts of wrong things about God, even and often from pulpits. Heaven help the person who is always looking to be offended when no offense was intended or implied. I would guess that anyone at Wheaton, including the President, could be accused of violating the Statement of Faith based on a particular interpretation and exactness of that statement. That way lies chaos, of course.
Which leads to a good lesson: Hear others as we would like to be heard.