Wilson Was a Calvinist, but He Got Calvin Wrong

I’ve written a short piece over at Patheos about the relation between President Woodrow Wilson and Reformed theologians like Abraham Kuyper, J. Gresham Machen, and John Calvin. Here are the first couple paragraphs:

In a fascinating essay at Patheos, Dean Curry describes Malcolm Magee’s argument in What the World Should Be that President Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy was decisively shaped by his Presbyterian Reformed theology.

“It is well known that Woodrow Wilson was a foreign policy idealist and that his approach to it was moralistic. After all, it was Wilson who famously promised that America’s participation in World War I would not be about selfish national interest—or realpolitik — but about the altruism of making the world “safe for democracy.” What is not well known about Wilson, and what Magee explains in fascinating detail, is how Wilson’s personal and political worldview was profoundly shaped by Reformed Protestant theology. Challenging the prevailing historiography of Wilson that has all but ignored Wilson’s theology, it is Magee’s thesis that Wilson was a “Presbyterian in politics, a twentieth century John Knox, a Christian statesman whose overriding motivation was his determination to do God’s work in a fallen world.””

Curry goes on to describe Wilson’s relationship with his father, a very prominent Southern Presbyterian pastor, and the influence on Wilson’s thinking of Princeton theologians like Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, and Benjamin B. Warfield. Curry also outlines Wilson’s friendship with J. Gresham Machen, as well as similarities between Wilson’s understanding of the relation between Reformed faith and politics, and that of Abraham Kuyper.

Read the rest, including my judgment of Wilson’s connection to Calvin’s thought, here.


About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on December 19, 2012, in Calvin, Calvinism, International Affairs, Two Kingdoms and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Wilson Was a Calvinist, but He Got Calvin Wrong.

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