He studied two years at Oberlin College (1913—1915), but volunteered in the Ambulance Field Service; he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. In November 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Field Artillery as a corporal.
In 1920, he graduated from Yale University. In college, he was an inter-collegiate doubles champion tennis player, and he played at Wimbledon in 1922, with his partner, Lee Wiley. He served as secretary to Albert Schweitzer lecturing at Oxford University, where he was studying at Mansfield College, (1921—1923). He completed his study for the ministry at Yale in 1924.
He was ordained in 1926, and served in a Congregationalist church in North Conway, New Hampshire He received his doctorate from Yale in 1933.He taught for 11 years at the Chicago Theological Seminary and University of Chicago before joining Harvard University in 1954, as Hollis Professor of Divinity. In 1963, Wilder was named emeritus faculty. His papers are held at Harvard.
His father was a journalist with a doctorate from Yale, worked at the U.S. consulate in China. His mother was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. His brother was Thornton Wilder, and sisters, were Charlotte Wilder and Janet Wilder Dakin.
He married Catharine Kerlin in 1935. They had a daughter, Catharine Wilder Guiles, and a son, Amos Tappan Wilder.