“There is an epidemic of sexual assault, and victims need the kind of hope and help that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide.”

So begins the forward to the book, Rid of My Disgrace, by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. And this book does in fact provide that needed hope and help for victims of sexual assault. I picked it up at the Mockingbird Conference in NYC this past April. As a theologian of the Cross and lover of all books that iterate and reiterate the message of Grace to those who are suffering, I could not resist its pull. I spend so much time in academe studying theology that I often get quite thirsty for real-life application. And theology that has no bearing on real-life, that does not connect with our day-in-day-out, cannot really call itself true theology. If God is for us, then the words about God should be for us, too.

Justin and Lindsey set out to proclaim a message to those who have suffered from sexual assault: there is hope and help in the proclamation of the cross. They succeeded. Each and every page steadfastly points to Christ. The book, from cover to cover, is a powerful testimony to God’s unceasing, unfailing, unconditional one-way love for us—no matter how wretched we are or how wretched we feel we are, no matter how broken.

Rid of My Disgrace maintains an inspired balance between scripture, theology, and personal testimony. It is comprised of three parts. The first part walks the reader through an explanation of what sexual assault is and the ramifications of sexual assault (truly eye-opening for anyone who is unfamiliar with the statistics for and definition of sexual assault). The third part is a well articulated and highly accessibly explanation of the Gospel, from Genesis to Revelation: Creation, Fall, Human Brokenness and Desperate Need, and God’s consistent and persistent One-Way Love. No small feat to summarize (and apply in a very specific way) salvation history.

The second part offers real testimonies from real victims and covers a vast array of experiences. Remarkably, though, every testimony proclaims the same hope in Jesus Christ and the event of the Cross as the way to hope and help. Each testimony highlights one of the six symptoms/responses typically experienced by victims of sexual assault: denial, distorted self-image, shame, guilt, anger, and despair. Following the testimony, the Holcombs address the specific symptom/response by offering an explanation as to why the victim would suffer such a symptom, after which they dive into sound biblical and theological doctrine (read: The Gospel), applying it as a balm to the wounded. To treat each of the over-arching six symptoms/responses individually is powerful: each one is valid and none outweighs another. In fact, victims of sexual assault rarely suffer from only one of these symptoms/responses; more likely, they experience multiple if not all of them. To treat them individually allows the victim to walk through just that symptom/response, to face it straight on…to name it and call it what it is.

Rid of My Disgrace is theologically sound, biblically grounded, and lovingly and tenderly written. To be clear, this is not a self help book. This is a book that proclaims freedom. But it’s not a freedom cloaked in terms of erasure (that one can just forget what has happened to them—retreating back to denial), but boldly stated in terms that call a spade a spade (which is authentic law/gospel, theologian of the cross language). The victim is free to say and admit (and maybe for the first time in a long time): I am a victim, I have suffered, I am broken to the core, I have great shame, and I need help. The book sets the victim up on solid ground to look for and seek help—without those feelings of shame or guilt typically associated with being a victim. This admission is possible because the Holcombs successfully and faithfully proclaim the “Yes” that is the Gospel, and it’s this “Yes” that dispels (or begins to dispel, because we all need to hear this message of “Yes” continually) the “No” that victims hear not only from those who assaulted them but also from, possibly, their family, friends, community, and definitely from themselves. At the heart of God’s concrete and definite “yes” to me lies the declaration that I am justified by faith in Christ apart from works: nothing I do and nothing that is done to me declares who I am; in this we find the freedom to acknowledge and admit what has happened, to see that it’s wrong, and to seek help—all of it by the power of the Holy Spirit, which turns stone hearts in to fleshy ones.

I recommend this book, without qualification, to victims, counselors, pastors, and anyone even vaguely concerned about this issue. I recommend it not just from a theological perspective, but also from a personal one:

I am a victim of sexual assault.

And the only reason why I can stand under the weight of those seven words now, 18 years after the first incident, is because of this book. Every page of the book implored me not to forget what had happened—merely proffering a band-aid to cover it up—but invited me to look back and finally to call it what it is/was: wrong, horrific, evil. The mirror was held to my face, and with unveiled eyes and heart and standing firmly on the gospel message, I saw for the first time how much shame and guilt I carry around with me everyday—and it runs very deep, nearly to the core of my person. I could even describe it as walking around—everywhere, everyday—in a cloud of shame and guilt, around which I spend/t a lot of time building what I consider/ed to be a fool-proof façade. I have only been able to operate in a relatively high functioning way by ignoring the deep shame and guilt; and in order to ignore the shame and guilt, I had to shut down emotionally. You can be numb to shame and guilt, if you cease to feel, or so I thought.

To read part two, my personal testimony on the matters at hand, click here. To read our interview with Justin and Lindsey, go here.