Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest (serving as the Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida) and teaches theology, philosophy, and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He also serves on the boards of REST (Real Escape from the Sex Trade) and GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments), and the council board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

His book Rid of My Disgrace (available for free to Christ and Pop Culture members courtesy of Crossway), which he co-authored with his wife Lindsay, is written in order to “help equip pastors and ministry staff as well as family members and friends of victims” so that “they learn to respond and care for victims in ways that are compassionate, practical, and informed” (p. 13). Even if you’ve never been sexually assaulted, you probably know and are close to someone who has. For readers like me, this book is where things “get real,” exposing me to situations I may never have imagined but which are genuine struggles for others.

Using the story of 2 Samuel 13, the Holcombs illustrate the disgrace of sexual assault. While that story ends with Tamar asking, “Where could I get rid of my disgrace?” the ultimate solution is found in the redemptive work of Christ. Accordingly, “the message of this book is that the gospel applies grace to disgrace and redeems what is destroyed” (p. 21).

Sexual assault is “a massive violation of the physical, psychological, and personal boundaries of another person” (p. 38). As such, it unavoidably does horrendous damage to the victim. Using a story written in the first person by a victim of sexual assault, the Holcombs illustrate in successive chapters what emotions arise from the experience of being sexually assaulted. This includes denial (chapter four), distorted self-image (chapter five), shame (chapter six), guilt (chapter seven), anger (chapter eight), and finally despair (chapter nine).

As the Holcombs set out to accomplish in the introduction, the advice they offer is “compassionate, practical, and informed.” They speak with a voice of wisdom that only comes with the experience of many painful and intense counseling sessions. In the final section of the book, “Grace Accomplished,” the Holcombs present a kind of biblical theology of sexual violence and assault and its effects. They specifically explore how this violence is a particular manifestation of evil that seeks to unravel the peace among men that God intended.

But here we also see a robust theology of grace and redemption sketched from both the Old and New Testaments. The book thus ends with what the reader will hopefully find as a fitting gospel crescendo—a bright beaming light that finally emerges from the dark tunnel of despair. After reading throughout this book all the damage that sexual assault does and getting glimmers of hope from chapter to chapter, the last two chapters really bring home the powerful healing brought by God’s grace in Christ.