Magazines 2024 Jul - Aug Circles and the Cross: Cosmos, Consciousness, Christ, and the Human Place in Creation

Circles and the Cross: Cosmos, Consciousness, Christ, and the Human Place in Creation

02 July 2024 By Job Morales

An extended review of a 2023 book by Loren Wilkinson

Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.

Book by Loren Wilkinson. Cascade, 2023. 372 pages. $49 (e-book $10)

The cosmos contains two great mysteries. The first is the cosmos itself—its origin and order. With the advent of 20th century cosmology, evidence of the rapid expansion of the universe challenged the prevalent belief among scientists that the universe is eternal. What we theorize today as the Big Bang suggests that the universe had a beginning. The 20th century also saw the discovery of the delicate balance of the parameters of the universe, or “fine-tuning,” required to support life. “Cosmos” connotes order and beauty, and fine-tuning shows how precariously balanced this order is—the slightest adjustment in the laws and constants that govern the world would result in a dead universe. For the universe’s beginning and fine-tuning, neither science nor the material world itself seems to offer an explanation.

Within the mystery of the cosmos is a second mystery – consciousness. While materialist thinkers try to explain it in purely physical terms, consciousness resists such attempts. While closely related, the human mind remains distinct from the human brain. Furthermore, we find ourselves not only with consciousness, but with conscience. Like consciousness, our tendency to believe in morality and our capacity for love and empathy invite explanations beyond the material world.

In Circles and the Cross, Loren Wilkinson, environmental thinker and philosophy professor emeritus at Regent College in Vancouver,  attempts to explain these two mysteries in light of a third – the cross. In considering such phenomena in theological terms, one can typically find apologetic works that discuss how cosmos and consciousness point to a Christian worldview. Authors often appeal to God as the best explanation for the origin and fine-tuning of the universe. And apart from a direct theological argument, the existence of consciousness is at least the stubborn foot in the door that opens into a world beyond the material. What makes Wilkinson’s discussion unique is that he looks at cosmos and consciousness from the vantage point of kenotic theology which centres around the idea that Christ “emptied [ekenōsen] himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7 ESV).

Wilkinson motivates the need for a kenotic theological perspective by taking the reader through a sweeping tour of the history of thought with respect to science and nature. On the one hand, the Enlightenment view of nature as a resource for humans has resulted in the denigration of creation that we see even today. On the other hand, the response from the Romantics and early environmentalists, while affirming the intrinsic value of nature, has tended toward its deification.

Kenotic theology strikes a middle ground by reaffirming what Scripture has affirmed for millennia: that Christ is creator and that creation is good. That Christ emptied himself by taking human form further suggests the worth of creation. The kenotic aspect is supposed to be reflected in cosmos and consciousness in other ways as well. For example, our capacity for love and empathy, the conscience part of our consciousness, is an echo of the love that motivated the Incarnation.


Circles and the Cross is an ambitious work as Wilkinson synthesizes decades of contemplation on a host of notable ideas. Although an intellectual work, he successfully avoids the risk of cold abstraction that he warns about throughout the book. By interweaving his own stories throughout his ruminations, he adds a sense of personal warmth, and can provoke one toward wonder.

However, the immense scope of topics is held together in a (relatively) short volume. As such, someone who has read deeply on a topic contained in the book might not be satisfied with the depth at which Wilkinson discusses it.

And while he devotes several chapters to it, the most interesting idea – the relationship between cosmos, consciousness and kenotic theology – deserves further development. (It’s not quite clear, for example, how the origin and fine-tuning of the universe reflect kenosis.)

Still, Circles and the Cross acts as a sort of trail map. As if representing the relationship between the curves of a trail and those of adjacent rivers, hills and forest edges, Wilkinson outlines in broad detail the connections between the relevant philosophical, theological and scientific ideas throughout history. And as if identifying trailheads at the edges of this map, Wilkinson directs the reader toward further discovery.

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