Continental vs. Analytic

A while ago I took some flack for some comments I made about continental philosophy , I wrote that continental philsophy is pseudo-philosophical gobbldy-gook. Well I stand by those words. Apparently Richard Swinburne, the world famous Oxford philosopher of religion feels the same way. Here is what he has to say about the relationship between theology and continental philosophy.

The most influential modern systematic theologians were German, of whom the best known was Karl Barth. They derived their philosophy from the Continental tradition in philosophy of the past two hundred years.  This includes such very diverse figures as Hegel, Nietzche, Heidegger, and Sartre. But it seemed to me – and has seemed to most Anglo-American philosophers – that what characterizes them all is a certain sloppiness of argument, a tendency to draw big, vague, general pictures of the universe without spelling them out very precisely or justifying them very thoroughly, a kind of philosophy geared toward literature rather than science. (Swinburne – The Vocation of a Natural Theologian)

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with a philosophy geared towards literature rather than science. Also I believe that there is much to learn from Nietzche and Sartre, however I have to agree with Swinburne that theology’s reliance upon the Continental tradition has resulted in some sloppy systematic theology. I believe that the analytic tradition of philosophy has yet to be explored fully as a resource for doing theology. Thankfully there are some philosophers/theologians who are paving a way in this area. Three people that come to mind are Oliver Crisp, Michael Rea, and Thomas McCall. This new field, which has been dubbed Analytic Theology has much to offer.

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Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

One thought on “Continental vs. Analytic

  1. Of course, theologians fed by the streams of continental thought would deny that “precision of argument” is what constitutes “good theology.” Further, though continental philosophy does take a lot of vocabulary learning and close readings, one could certainly never say that analytic philosophy is somehow more natural or clear; both require knowledge of the rules of the game. The “continental-analytic” divide is an impediment to good thinking, and especially to good Christian thinking, in my own humble opinion. I think we see this clearly with folks like Wittgenstein and Heidegger, who both transcend the divide quite well (indeed, Lyotard’s famous work on the “postmodern condition” is the result of his Wittgensteinian philosophy–but no one would dare suggest Lyotard is of an analytic persuasion!).

    Anyway, I don’t mean to sound like the philosophy police here, but as a fellow Christian studying philosophy I think it’s important that we take seriously the claims made in both continental and analytic philosophy. I assure you, as someone who has spent considerable time and energy pouring over continental texts, it’s not “gobbledy-gook,” despite the fact that you might have to actually read it a few times to allow certain contours to emerge. Why draw the battle lines?

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