Niebuhr, Kuyper, and Foggy Bottom
Though Wilson was not drawn to fundamentalism, his theological ideas had much in common with the transformational, neo-Calvinism of Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper delivered his famous world-and-life-view-focused "Stone Lectures" at Princeton in 1898 where Woodrow Wilson was now a professor of jurisprudence and political economy. While Magee writes that there is no record of Wilson and Kuyper meeting, he observes that like Kuyper, "the distinction between secular and sacred . . . simply did not exist in Wilson's mind."
For Wilson, the calling of Christian believers is to serve as God's transformational agents in redeeming all spheres of creation. The vocation of politics is every bit a sacred task as that of pastoral ministry. Magee shows that Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion was hugely important to Woodrow Wilson's understanding of his earthly responsibilities and it became his textbook of politics, even to the point that Wilson's political philosophy teetered on the edges of theocracy, or what more recently has been called Reconstructionism. As a young Bryn Mawr professor, Wilson taught his students that John Calvin was the "great reforming Christian statesman." Summarizing Calvin's impact on Wilson, Magee argues that Wilson's understanding of the Christian statesman mandated the reconstruction of "his own society in covenantal patterns," along the lines of Calvin's Geneva. For Wilson, therefore, participation in politics was not an option, but a "necessary . . . outcome of this Calvinist faith."
Doctrinal components of Reformed and Presbyterian theology, specifically those of covenant and antinomy—the Reformed belief that what might appear to be contradictory is in reality not so—also held "deep meaning" for Wilson and framed his understanding of presidential responsibilities. Most importantly, Magee argues that Wilson's foreign policy idealism flowed directly from the Reformed doctrine of covenant. To Wilson "bringing the world into a covenantal pattern was the purpose that directed all of human history."
Furthermore, Wilson saw the world as divided into two camps: those who served "the good purposes of God" and the "evil opposition" who sought to thwart God's purposes. Indeed, Wilson's explicit use of religious language is astonishing to our contemporary ears: "The field of battle is the world. From the abodes of righteousness advances the host of God's people under the leadership of Christ." Or these words: "There is a mighty task before us and . . . [it] is to make the United States a mighty Christian nation, and to Christianize the world." This unequivocal moral vision and sense of destiny goes a long way in helping to explain the uncompromising moralism that characterized Woodrow Wilson's foreign policy and proved so aggravating, even maddening, to Wilson's political contemporaries at home and abroad.
True to his theological commitment that Christianity is a full-orbed faith allowing no bifurcation between the secular and sacred or the personal and public, Magee writes that Wilson's 1913 Presidential inaugural address "spoke to the nation as a Presbyterian minister's sermon might speak to his congregation." Wilson's first foreign policy test came shortly after his inauguration when a destabilizing civil war in Mexico threatened American investments. Magee writes that the Mexican crisis "was a demonstration of how Wilson's application of antinomy to foreign policy decision making worked."