BOOK REVIEW: RID OF MY DISGRACE

TITLE: RID OF MY DISGRACE

AUTHOR: Justin S. Holcomb & Lindsey A. Holcomb

PUBLISHER: Crossway

AUDIENCE: The book is written to two major audiences. The first audience is made up of those who have suffered abuse. The second audience is made up of pastors, ministry staff, and friends and family of victims.

GENERAL SUMMARY:  There is a growing epidemic of sexual assaults. There are also assorted issues that the church, the government, and person-to-person relationships have not only failed to address, but have, in many cases, added additional pain by avoiding, improperly addressing, or by failing to recognize and give the weight that should come if we acknowledge the issues exist. Sexual assault is evil. It is sin. There are victims that have had ungodly action taken against them. They deserve to be heard and seen. Their assaults must be called exactly what they are—evil and sin. The effects of sin are devastating, especially those wrought against the body. God does not approve of this sin, nor is He going to overlook it or be bound by some sort of agreement to remain outside and away from our lives and world that would keep Him from punishing sin and working for our good. There is hope. The hope we have is found in the gospel of Christ Jesus. A deep exploration of the truth of the gospel is able to heal all who suffer from the effects of sexual assault. Not only can the child of God find hope to survive this horrendous abuse, God has made a way to make you thrive and flourish.

WHY I READ IT: I know a lot of people who have suffered sexual assault. Many of them I care for deeply. Most of them have revealed this pain at times we were very close friends. I want to serve the body of Christ in a manner worthy of the gospel. I want people to know God’s great love for them in a world so full of hate and pain that many reject the goodness and love of God (and then God altogether). I want them to know God cares and realize for myself how much God cares as I seek to share Him with them in their particular situations. I specifically read this to love those who are in or may come in to our small group and church. I also read it to share with those who may be looking for a resource to understand the pain and enter it alongside those who hurt.

DID IT DELIVER?: Yes and No.  Please let me explain. I wanted something that would make ministering to people I love that have suffered sexual assault in a way that once we walked through the book, they would be healed and “better”. That is just not possible in most cases. So it failed to meet my unfair and unreasonable desires, but it succeeded in its goals. It first and foremost set a more realistic expectation level for the weight and burden of the effects of sexual assault. My heart grieves as I write this. I have had to look back over my motives and sin in my history of promiscuity. The value God has given to purity and the weight of His holy desire to love His children who devalue it are overwhelming. That is a good thing, a very good thing. I was also able to witness a washing pattern where the gospel is unfolded and “scrubs” in a circular pattern of repetition that will wear away at the pain that can become caked on the heart and mind. That was helpful. It is also biblical counseling, not secular. The gospel is the tool that has and will solve this problem, this pain. Life will come by the gospel. It is sufficient. I was greatly encouraged by the reality of how applicable the gospel is to solve such a painful and specific form of evil’s effects.

SUMMARY OF STRUCTURE:  The authors divide the book into three major sections. The first section is Disgrace. The second section is Grace Applied. The third section is Grace Revealed. They take you on a quick walk in a chapter prior to entering the first section and conclude with a one-page prayer. They also add some extremely helpful appendices that every church should share with their members in my opinion. They provide Notes for each chapter, a thorough and commendable bibliography, as well as both a general and scriptural index.

SECTION I: DISGRACE

Rid of My Disgrace opens our eyes to the reality of grace. “A good short definition of grace is ‘one-way love.’” Disgrace is the opposite. Where grace seeks you out to bring hope and pour out love on someone who may or may not have anything to give in return, “Disgrace destroys, causes pain, deforms, and wounds. It alienates and isolates. Disgrace makes you feel worthless, rejected, unwanted, and unwanted like a persona non grata (a “person without grace”). Disgrace silences and shuns.” The authors take us through understanding sexual assault as an act of disgrace by exploring sexual assault and its effects. They do a great job of defining sexual assault and explaining why they define it as they do as well as in personalizing the real effects that a victim of sexual assault experiences. These effects are the result of the trauma sexual assault causes and affect the mind, body, and heart of the victim. Greater depth is given to the effects of trauma, negative stereotypes of victims, self-blame, the difference in male and female victims, and emotions, and ultimately the gospel hope that exists for healing.

SECTION II: GRACE APPLIED

Section two opens with testimony of the experience and effects of sexual abuse. Six testimonies are given to help the reader understand sexual assault, its effects, and the application of hope that comes as grace is applied. There are two testimonies from men and four testimonies from women. The application of grace flows from an explanation of how the gospel is applied to denial, self-image, shame, guilt, anger, and despair. All of these effects are common to victims that endure the trauma sexual assault causes. Though these truths are presented in a specific context of sexual assault, I found myself comforted by their application to physical abuse. The gospel is true for all men and women and all trauma and this does not exclude sexual assault.

The authors carefully wash victims and readers with the word of God in the gospel. This grows out of a clear belief: “We believe that the only thing that gets to the depths of the devastation of sexual assault is God’s one-way, unconditional love expressed through, and founded on, the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ. And in response to sin and its effects, God’s radical grace and redemption are at the center of responding to the pain and the needs brought on by a victim’s experiences.” 

SECTION III: GRACE REVEALED

In section III, the authors show us that the revelation of grace is intended for those who desire a biblical understanding of sin, violence, sexual assault, and God’s response. It works from an explanation of peace (shalom) and works through the story of redemption found in both the Old and New Testaments. Chapter ten provides a foundation for understanding the core concepts and a chapter follows for God’s plan in each testament to give a full Bible explanation of God’s word and work that has always pointed to the gospel.

The process of the book is to learn what we are talking about and define hard subjects, walk through the experience of sexual assault victims in both Scripture and our current context, grieve with them as they grieve, and look forward to the shared hope we have for peace in the finished work of God today and in the future found in the thread of the gospel God has graciously given us in His word from beginning to end. It culminates in worship with a closing prayer.

PRIMARY SUBJECTS: Sexual Assault, Sin, Trauma, Grace, Disgrace, Gospel Application, Suffering, Specific Biblical Counseling

STRENGTHS:  Easy to read in a general sense. It made sense of very difficult subjects and really moved the audience from a distant relationship with the subject of sexual assault into a personal relationship with not only those who have suffered these assaults, but also with the God who has more than conquered them. The range of academia and personal biblical counseling that occurs in the book gives it the ability to be used in a wide range of settings. The testimonies make it personal. The research makes it academic. The application of the gospel undergirds the entire book and guides the process and flow of the book. Sin is placed in our face so we see it as large as it is, but God in the gospel is brought to our face and is shown to be so much greater and bigger that the sin is pushed farther from us than the east is from the west.

WEAKNESSES: The primary weakness of the book is the primary strength of the book. It is a very broad and general book meant to reach a lot of different people. I would say this would have done better to be two books, but I have not worked through it with someone yet, so take that for what it is. The academic aspect (facts and general research on trends) is naturally very cold in my estimation. The testimonies were so personal in contrast. The gospel explanation and application were clear and precise, but the book didn’t really yield itself to any of those perspectives completely. It felt like it could be two books and better serve the church.

Let me explain.

You don’t have to convince a sexual assault victim of the gravity of the sin that has been committed against them with percentages and statistics and studies. That felt like it actually works against the close counseling relationship that should exist grounded in the personal and natural love of God that we receive as His children through the growing gospel application of His Holy Spirit coupled with the Word. We don’t care about our friends and family because the pain is statistically verifiable and therefore applicable. We care about their pain because we care about them. We don’t care if statistics, research, and the general counsel of the world says we are wrong for doing so. I said that pretty bluntly and with a general rejection of any alternative opinion. I mean that in the same way Christ tells us we should love God and hate our parents.

I believe the argument and foundational movement from statistics was a mistake. What I mean by foundational movement is this: the authors set a foundation and build a house that starts with the reality that sexual assault is a problem and then moves more into a biblical theology or biblical explanation of sin in general and sexual assault specifically. As Christians (and humans in general), our worldview begins with what God says about any subject, not what statistics say.  The argument from statistics should be in a separate textbook for school or for those preparing to walk through a book with a brother or sister who is hurting and not in the actual book you will be walking through with them. This is preference and not God ordained, but I think it wise, so take that for what it is.

Begin and end with the gospel.

This knowledge (the statistics and trends) is important and a ground for a world who could honestly care less to face the heinous nature of this sin and its effects. It is also not at war with God’s word, instead it confirms it. Sin is evil and spreads when injustice abounds. It’s definitely needed. This section was well written as well. I needed it, but my friends who are suffering don’t. Maybe it would be better used as a separate pamphlet or booklet available for those seeking to understand and walk with their friends and family through their pain. It makes great supplementary material. I do think it should be used to bring those who do not naturally see the issue as noteworthy or assign it the weight it has in the proper Scriptural light into the argument for how to view sexual assault. That said, there may be no better way to help academic audiences understand or care with a growing trend of glancing over portions of books and avoiding supplementary materials that are not required, but will it be read to be understood either way if someone does not have a heart to understand grounded on love?