A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The concept of Grace in “Is It My Fault” by the Holcombs (book review Pt 3)

I have many problems with the way the Holcombs talk about God’s grace. I am sorry to have to say this because I know it will hurt the Holcombs, but this part of their book is a case study in how to wrongly divide the Word of truth.

Note: this is an unusually long post so we are going to give our readers several days to absorb it. We will publish a devotional post this Sunday, but we will not publish a post this coming Monday, May 25th.

1(a). They describe grace as unconditional

Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it. (p. 82)

Whoa! Whose side are they on here? Abusers love the notion that God’s grace and love is unconditional, because it means they don’t have to repent! 

God’s grace and love are not unconditional. God offers unmerited, undeserved mercy to sinners. But the gospel is “repent and believe”; God commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Saving grace is not deserved and we don’t merit it by repentance; but without repentance there is no regeneration, no saving faith, no entering the kingdom of God. So when the Holcombs say, “Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it,”  they are handling fine crystal glassware with thick builders’ gloves, and are giving abusers a home in the church.

The Holcombs may protest that they were writing to Christian victims here, not abusers; but that is not good enough. Victims reading their book might easily be triggered by their ‘grace is unconditional’ statement, because their own pastors have unconditionally been ‘extending unconditional grace’ to their abusers — and thus prolonging the nightmare in which the victims are living.

1(b). They underplay or ignore God’s judgement and wrath for sin

God is not standing idly by to watch violence run its course. He will not allow evil to have the final word. His response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal and re-creation. (113)

This is cold comfort for victims since the other aspect of God’s response to evil — judgement and wrath for all evildoers who refuse to humble themselves and repent— has not been mentioned. In my opinion, the Holcomb’s speak far too little about the wrath God has for abusers and the judgement that is stored up for them if they remain stiff necked and hardened of heart.

God is a God of grace, not of karma. Karma says you get what you deserve. Grace says the opposite. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do deserve.  . . . A shorthand way of thinking about grace is “mercy, not merit.” God is not interested in punishing you or making you pay. He’s interested in lavishing you with His grace. (81)

Yes; karma is an unbiblical concept. But the Bible does talk about sowing and reaping! And if God is not interested in punishing, then the unrepentant abuser gets off scott free and we all walk down the yellow brick road to the wizard’s house where Hell is magically taken away by the rose coloured glasses he gives us. — Don’t the false shepherds love this doctrine: they can lavish grace on the high-tithing abusers who populate their pews and their elders’ boards!

And “God is not interested in punishing you and making you pay” will be a trigger for victims, because the word ‘you’ points right at them. Pay for what? Be punished for what? Elsewhere in the book the Holcombs say the victim is not to blame for the abuse, but their words here — punishing you and making you pay — seem to be inferring that the victim IS guilty of abuse and she only gets off being punished for it because God gives her grace.

The cross is God’s attack on sin and violence; it is salvation from sin and its effects. The cross really is a coup de grace, meaning “stroke of grace,” which refers to the deathblow delivered to the misery of our suffering. (114)

The Bible teaches that Christ’s death on the Cross brings us salvation from the eternal penalty of our sin, and sets us free from the power of the devil so we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to Christ — with the indwelling Spirit to help us resist temptation. But it does not teach that Christ’s death saves us from all the effects of sin. David the adulterer/murderer suffered many consequences for his sin through the remainder of his life. Tamar the victim of rape suffered many consequences for the sins committted against her — and I’m referring to sins plural because there was the rape by her brother Amnon; the connivance of his friend Jonadab in the rape; her brother Absalom’s discounting of her pain and him telling her to keep quiet about it; and her father David’s failure to justly punish her rapist. God’s grace didn’t lift all the effects of the sins that these people committed against Tamar.

The gospel is the announcement that Jesus (the God-man) lived a perfect life, and died in our place, and rose from the dead. Those who trust in the person and work of Jesus receive the good news that God’s “No” went to Jesus and God’s “Yes” is all He will ever say to them. Your sins are forgiven and you are declared righteous. You are an adopted child of God.  (220)

If God only ever says “Yes” to believers, what about how He sometimes chastises his children? God has been reduced to the genial uncle in the skies by the above phraseology of the Holcombs.

Genial Jesus in Heaven with Rainbows and Doves

2. They reductively depict grace as the morale-boosting energy drink for mood enhancement and Christian Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CCBT).

I have no problem with the idea that the Christian walk involves transforming the mind (cognitive change) and transforming conduct and character (behavioral and attitudinal change— fruits of the Spirit); but it disturbs me when I hear the doctrine of God’s grace being spoken about as if it were simply an instrument or prescription to heal the abused person’s wounds.

The Holcombs do this frequently on pp 75-86, i,e., half of chapter five and most of chapter six. This section of the book was by far the most difficult for me to read and analyze. I felt like I was going into a morass every time I tackled it.

Here are some examples; and because this is a long section I am preceding each quote with a mark (~) before I comment on it.


Grace is “one-way love” and it is directed at you. This is the opposite of your experience, which is one-way violence. It seeks you out even if you do not deal out any violence in return.
Grace, on the other hand, is being loved when you are or feel unlovable. Grace has the power to turn despair into hope. Grace listens, lifts up, cures, transforms, and heals. To the experience of one-way violence, God brings one-way love. (82)

To assert that the victim’s experience is “one-way violence” is simplistic and unhelpful. Most if not all victims can recall times when their abuser appeared to be loving and showed no signs of violence or abuse. Only when we really come out of the fog and discerningly scrutinize the history do we begin to see that our abuser’s ‘loving’ times were part of the manipulation. And for some of us, that is not so; a few survivors testify that their abuser was indeed truly and consistently loving to them for quite some time early in the marriage, but later he became abusive, perhaps when he backslid into a besetting sin from his past such as alchoholism or porn-addiction.


Because abuse encourages you to adopt false beliefs — “I am worthless,” or “I’ve done something wrong and deserve to be punished” — you can also develop dysfunctional emotions such as shame and distress. (76)

In calling distress a ‘dysfunctional emotion’, the Holcombs are stuck in the deficit model of victimology. When I’m mistreated, I don’t feel content about that, I feel distressed! Emotions of distress are highly functional — they are warning signs that, very likely, my boundaries have been violated and my human rights ignored.


The good news is that reorienting your beliefs can also gradually help your emotions return to normal. Our hope is that the grace of God — which declares you valuable, beautiful and worthy of respect — would be key to dismantling the debilating emotions caused by your abuse and nurturing new, positive emotions within you. (76)

[Trigger de-fuse from Barb.  It was not your abuse, by which I mean — you did not do it. You were not the agent, you were the object of the abuse. Your abuser did it to you.]

Biblically speaking, am I valuable, beautiful and worthy of respect? Or is that just sappy encouragement like the ‘princess’ theology which is so prevalent in parts of the church these days?

Valuable? — does the grace of God declare people valuable and beautiful? Yes and no. Those whom God has chosen, who are born again in Christ, are especially valuable to Him as His adopted children; but if we emphasize our personal ‘value’ we run the risk of encouraging hubris and pride. It’s unwise for me to judge my own value, as that is for God to assess, not me (1 Cor. 4:3). And the value of a believer’s works will be made evident on the Day when a lot of hay and stubble will be burnt up and only truly valuable works will result in eternal rewards for the saved.

Beautiful? I am not beautiful in myself. When God looks on me born again in Christ he sees Christ’s beauty, not mine. My beauty is only because the Holy Spirit dwells in me as a believer, and for that reason I am exhorted not to quench the Spirit and to remember that my body is the temple of the Spirit.

Worthy of Respect?  All humans are worthy of respect as creatures created in God’s image, even though that image has been somewhat blighted and distorted since the Fall.  But I hesitate to say that a Christian, by dint of their salvation, is any more worthy of respect than anyone else on this earth. By asserting that “the grace of God… declares you… worthy of respect”  the Holcombs seem to be building up the self-esteem of the victim at the expense of sound doctrine. The self-esteem gospel is a dangerous distortion and will be the shipwreck of many.

According to sound doctrine, God’s covenant of grace in the gospel does not declare me worthy of respect: rather, it talks about how I am unworthy and undeserving of saving grace. It says I have no merit of my own nor can I earn merit by any effort I may make, but it announces that God has provided forgiveness of sin solely because of the merits of Christ in His obedience to the Law and His suffering the full penalty of God’s wrath for sin. Even my faith is not meritorious; it does not earn me forgiveness — and it does not make me especially ‘worthy of respect’. When I received salvation by the grace of God, I was not made any more worthy than I was before. Salvation by grace does not accrue worth to me, it only makes me grateful for the gift I’ve undeservedly received because of the unspeakable love and unsearchable sovereignty of God.


We need to look to the gospel in order to investigate the new emotions that God offers to victims and how they relate to the current emotions victims experience. … This is where grace offers an incredible gift — the gift of refuting faulty thinking and replacing it with God-given truth. What God’s grace can offer you is simply this: it will show you who you are, undistorted. (77).

That’s not bad: ‘refuting faulty thinking’ is a substantial part of our work on this blog.  But look at the example and application they then give (note: there are no typos in this transcription, the awkward syntax is exactly as it appears in p 78 of the book):

To understand how this grace works on practical level, consider this passage from WTS professor Carl Trueman, “Others might tell me that I am a failure, an idiot, a clown, evil, incompetent, vicious, dangerous, pathetic, etc., and these words are not just descriptive: they have a certain power to make me these things, in the eyes of others and even in my own eyes.” In the case of domestic abuse, maybe the problem is also actions. You have had things done to you that have left their mark. You can’t get away from the memory of those things; you feel, deep inside, as though what the abuser has said to you or done to you show you to be bad or worthless, and you can’t break that image.

However, God has the last word — and His word is the one that counts. … God makes an entirely new creature out of the messy raw material that He begins with…

On this, Trueman notes: “But God speaks louder, and his Word is more powerful. You may call me a liar, and you speak truth, for I have lied; but if God declares me righteous, then my lies and your insult are not the final word, nor the most powerful word. Only as God speaks his Word to me, and as I hear that Word in faith, is my reality transformed, and . . . the insult of others, of my own sinful nature, and of the evil one himself cease to constitute my reality.”

Good grief!  Big foot in pothole here! When a Christian abuse victim speaks the truth about her abuser’s evil ways, her abuser — and often the church as well — accuse her of lying. This is a false and cruel accusation: When abuse victims disclose, they do not lie about the abuse, they tell the truth about it — and they get often cricitized and condemned for telling it.

The Holcombs were insensitive to use that quote by Trueman — “You may call me a liar, and you speak truth, for I have lied” —  for it’s analogous to one of the most common slanderous and unjust accusations laid against abuse victims: that she is lying, exaggerating, making it up; that she’s misrepresting what her husband is like!   By using this quote, the Holcombs are going to hurt and trigger victims, rather than help them heal.

Additionally, the victim is likely to read the above passage from the point of view of her abuser. Why? Because while she’s married to this wicked man, and often for quite a while after she leaves him, her head is cabbaged with the abuser. She spends more energy thinking about things from his point of view than from her point of view. (This is one important way she creatively manages risk and walks on eggshells while under his control.)

Reading Trueman’s words from the point of view of her abuser, the victim will readily imagine her abuser saying to himself (and to any naive people in the church he can twist to his point of view):— “People might tell me that I am a failure, an idiot, a clown, evil, incompetent, vicious, dangerous, pathetic, etc., . . . But I’m not! God declares me righteous! God speaks louder and his Word is more powerful. Your insults of me, your claims about me being evil and vicious and dangerous, are not the final word, not the most powerful word. I’m not an abuser!

The Holcombs have tried to help victims of domestic abuse, but in their lack of understanding, their help is sometimes no help.

3. They say “Disgrace is the opposite of grace”. But is this correct?

The New Testament uses the word “grace” (charis) in various ways. To help you understand my concerns about this part of the Holcomb’s work, I have condensed a theological discourse about the word ‘grace’. The entry “Grace”, by Burton Scott Easton in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, vol. 2 (link) (bolding added) says —

1. The word Charis [in ancient Greek usage generally]
Primarily (a) the word seems to denote pleasant external appearance, “gracefulness,” “loveliness” … (b) Objectively,
charis may denote the impression produced by “gracefulness,” … (c) As a mental attribute charis may be translated by “graciousness,” or, when directed toward a particular person or persons, by “favor.” So in Luke 2:52, “Jesus advanced … in favor with God and men.” (d) As the complement to this, charis denotes the emotion awakened in the recipient of such favor, i.e. “gratitude.” … In a slightly transferred sense charis designates the words or emotion in which gratitude is expressed, and so becomes “thanks”… (e) Concretely, charis may mean the act by which graciousness is expressed, …  “liberality,” … “bounty.” These various meanings naturally tend to blend into each other, and in certain cases it is difficult to fix the precise meaning that the writer meant the word to convey, a confusion that is common to both New Testament and secular Greek.

2. Grace as Power
Naturally, the various meanings of the word were simply taken over from ordinary language by the New Testament writers. And so it is quite illegitimate to try to construct on the basis of all the occurrences of the word a single doctrine that will account for all the various usages. … the very elasticity of the word enabled it to receive still another — new and technically Christian — meaning. This seems to have originated in part by fusing together two of the ordinary significances.

In the first place, as in (e) above, charis may mean “a gift.” … [e.g.] the money given by the Corinthians to the Jerusalemites. In 2 Corinthians 9:8 it is the increase of worldly goods that God grants for charitable purposes. In 2 Corinthians 1:15 it is the benefit received by the Corinthians from a visit by Paul.
In a more spiritual sense charis is the endowment for an office in the church (Ephesians 4:7), more particularly for the apostolate (Romans 1:5; 12:3; 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Ephesians 3:2,7). So in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 charis is expanded into “word and all knowledge,” endowments with which the Corinthians were especially favored. In 1 Peter 1:13 charis is the future heavenly blessedness that Christians are to receive; in 3:7 it is the present gift of “life.”

In the second place, charis is the word for God’s favor, a sense of the term that is especially refined by St. Paul. But God’s favor differs from man’s in that it cannot be conceived of as inactive. A favorable “thought” of God’s about a man involves of necessity the reception of some blessing by that man, and “to look with favor” is one of the commonest Biblical paraphrases for “bestow a blessing.” Between “God’s favor” and “God’s favors” there exists a relation of active power, and as charis denoted both the favor and the favors, it was the natural word for the power that connected them. This use is very clear in 1 Corinthians 15:10, where Paul says, “not I, but the grace of God which was with me” labored more abundantly than they all: grace is something that labors. So in 2 Corinthians 12:9, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness”; compare 2 Timothy 2:1, “strengthened in the grace,” and 1 Peter 4:10, “stewards of the manifold grace.” Evidently in this sense “grace” is almost a synonym for the Spirit, and there is little real difference between “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of grace and power” in Acts 6:5,8, while there is a very striking parallel between Ephesians 4:7-13 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, with “gifts of grace” in the one passage, and “gifts of the Spirit” in the other. And this connection between grace and the Spirit is found definitely in the formula “Spirit of grace” in Hebrews 10:29 …

3. Grace in Justification
This meaning of charis was obtained by expanding and combining other meanings. By the opposite process of narrowly restricting one of the meanings of the word, it came again into Christian theology as a technical term, but this time in a sense quite distinct from that just discussed. The formation of this special sense seems to have been the work of Paul. … the word has abundant use in secular Greek in the sense of unmerited favor, and St. Paul seized on this meaning of the word to express a fundamental characteristic of Christianity. The basic passage is Romans 11:5-6, where a definition is given, “If it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” … “Grace” in this sense is an attitude on God’s part that proceeds entirely from within Himself, and that is conditioned in no way by anything in the objects of His favor. So in Romans 4:4. If salvation is given on the basis of what a man has done, then salvation is given by God as the payment of a debt. But when faith is reckoned for what it is not, i.e. righteousness, there is no claim on man’s part, and he receives as a pure gift something that he has not earned. … “Grace” then, in this sense is the antinomy to “works” or to “law”; it has a special relation to the guilt of sin (Romans 5:20; 6:1), and has almost exactly the same sense as “mercy.” Indeed, “grace” here differs from “mercy” chiefly in connoting eager love as the source of the act … And, of course, it is from the word in this technical Pauline sense that an elaborate Protestant doctrine of grace has been developed.

4. Special Uses 
A few special uses of the word may be noted. … the special blessing of God on a particular undertaking; …  “that which deserves the thanks of God,” i.e. a specifically Christian act as distinguished from an act of “natural morality.” “Grace for grace” in John 1:16 is a difficult phrase, but an almost exact parallel in Philo … may fix the sense as “benefit on benefit.”

But the tendency of the New Testament writers is to combine the various meanings the word can have, something that is particularly well illustrated in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. In these two chapters the word occurs 10 times, but in so many different senses as to suggest that St. Paul is consciously playing with the term. Charis is the money given to the Jerusalemites by the Corinthians (8:19), it is the increase of goods that God will grant the Corinthians (9:8), it is the disposition of the givers (8:6), it is the power of God that has wrought this disposition (8:1; 9:14), it is the act of Christ in the Incarnation (8:9; contrast the distinction between “God’s grace” and “Christ’s act” in Hebrews 2:9), it is the thanks that Paul renders (9:15). That all a Christian is and all that he has is God’s gift could have been stated of course without the use of any special term at all. But in these two chapters Paul has taught this truth by using for the various ideas always the same term and by referring this term to God at the beginning and the end of the section. That is, to the multiplicity of concepts there is given a unity of terminology, corresponding to the unity given the multiple aspects of life by the thought of entire dependence on God. So charis, “grace,” becomes almost an equivalent for “Christianity,” viewed as the religion of dependence on God through Christ. As one may think of entering Christianity, abiding in it, or falling from it, so one may speak of entering into (Romans 5:2), abiding in (Acts 13:43), or falling from (Galatians 5:4) grace; cf. 1 Peter 5:12. So the teaching of Christianity may be summed up as the word or gospel of grace (Acts 14:3; 20:24,32). So “grace be with you” closes the Epistles as a sufficient summary of all the blessings that can be wished Christian readers. At the beginning of the Epistles the words “and peace” are usually added, but this is due only to the influence of the Jewish greeting “peace be with you” (Luke 10:5, etc.), and not to any reflection on “grace” and “peace” as separate things.

I would have had no problem if, when they used the word ‘grace’, the Holcombs had made it clear that they confining their meaning to

  • almost a synonym for the Spirit, and
  • the religion of Christianity viewed as the religion of dependence on God through Christ.

But they don’t confine their use of ‘grace’ to just those meanings. They also use it to mean ‘grace in justification’. And because the justification sense has “a special relation to the guilt of sin” (as Easton explained above) their words can be heard by victims of abuse as pointing to their own guilt — and thus seem to echo the abuser’s accusations that the victim is the guilty one and the blame all lies with her!

Having laid that groundwork, let us go back to the Holcomb’s book:

We like to look at healing from abuse through the lens of grace because we’ve seen so many victims who identify with disgrace. … Your emotions are to be taken seriously and listened to. They are powerful revealers of what you believe about God, yourself, your experience of abuse, others and the world. And when you better understand these emotions you are better able to take control of and shape them according to what is most beneficial for you. This emotional understanding can help you on the journey from disgrace to boundless grace. (75-6)  [emphasis added]

The resurrection of Jesus has also launched new creation and the coming of a new heavens and new earth where disgrace will be replaced by grace, anxiety will give way to peace, and despair will be banished. (90)  [emphasis added]

The Holcombs are not entirely off-beam when they say that the victim is burdened by a feeling of disgrace. But they assert that ‘the opposite of disgrace is grace” (82) and by ‘grace’ here they are referring to God’s grace, not the forebearance type of grace which Christians are exhorted to give to one other. (“Give her grace, dear, she’s had a hard time.”)

I submit that it is misleading and confusing to say disgrace is the opposite of grace. If there is an antonym to ‘the grace of God’, it would be ‘the judgement of God’, particularly the judgement God has for the unbeliever — the unregenerate person who is dead in sin and outside Christ and will therefore be eternally judged for his sin. ‘The grace of God’ and the experience of disgrace are not simple opposites of each other.

The Holcomb’s aphorism: The opposite of disgrace is grace — the grace of God may be heard as an insult by a Christian victim. How? The Holcombs say the victim feels dis-grace and in order to heal she needs ‘the opposite of disgrace — the grace of God.’ If she needs God’s grace, we might easily infer that she doesn’t yet have it. If the kind of grace she does not yet have is the grace of justification, it follows that she doesn’t have saving faith, she needs to be born again, she is unregerenate, she is dead in sin and hasn’t yet entered the Kingdom of light. And the Holcombs do not carefully guard against the reader drawing this conclusion. The result is a potential insult to any woman who is in Christ and who has been abused by a hard-hearted husband.

Now, this may not be how all victims hear it, but some will. I heard it that way. I don’t know how typical my response is for Christian survivors of abuse, but I can guess that if I hear it as a patronizing insult, some others will also. As Easton points out, an elaborate Protestant doctrine of grace has been developed from the technical Pauline sense ‘the grace of justification’. Because that doctrine is so elaborate, and because we in the conservative evangelical church are so well schooled in it, I unblinkingly interpreted the Holcomb’s use of ‘grace’ to mean ‘the grace of justification’ — and felt aggrieved when I heard them implying I was not regenerate and needed to be born again!

The opposite of disgrace is grace, the grace of God” is an aphorism that cannot be found in the Bible. Probably the Holcombs coined it thinking it would help victims, but if it is capable of an offensive interpretation, it should not have been coined, let alone used in the context of abuse.

Furthermore, I think it presumptuous to assert that victims feel disgrace. In my experience, victims rarely use the word ‘disgrace’ to describe their experiences. Rather, they say they feel confusion, bewilderment, self-doubt, shame, guilt, outrage, anger, grief, and above all, fear. And they say they have been despised, denigrated, disbelieved, belittled, held in contempt and shunned. And — when they are well out of the fog — they may say they were stigmatized.

By putting so much emphasis on  the word ‘disgrace’ the Holcombs have unwittingly enabled mis-attribution of blame to the victim.

When talking about abuse, the word ‘stigma’ is a much more useful word than ‘disgrace’. Abused people do not feel stigma as a mere subjective emotion or negative self-concept from which they will be healed ‘when their faulty thinking is refuted’. No; stigma is a fact. Not only did their abusers stigmatize and besmirch them; in many cases the people in the church stigmatized them too. The word stigma makes it clear that other people were in the wrong. It cannot be construed as something wrong with the abused person, it conveys that something was wrong with the stigmatizers — the abuser and with the weak-kneed/ignorant bystanders — all of whom mistreated the abused person by stigmatizing them.

Side note: I am aware that the Holcomb’s titled their earlier book Rid Of My Disgrace based on Tamar’s words when she was resisting Amnon’s demand that she fornicate with him: What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? (2 Samuel 13:13 NIV).  I’m guessing the Holcombs chose to use the NIV there because it was convenient for their ‘grace is the opposite of disgrace’ coinage. A quick search of other versions on Bible Gateway shows that 29 versions have ‘shame’, whereas only nine of them use the word ‘disgrace’. Hmm.

And in the phrase my disgrace, the possessive pronoun can infer that the victim is wrongful: that she’s brought the disgrace on herself. I believe the translation ‘where could I get rid of my shame’  would be more authentic to the experience of victims, and less potentially offensive to them. All that is needed, with that translation, is to gently point out that the shame is FALSE shame, imprinted on the victim by the abuser’s assaults and lies, and, as false shame, it can dispelled by the truth that the victim is not to blame — the shame needs to be prayerfully handed back to the abuser.

Be that as it may, the whole grace/disgrace opposition strikes me as having appeal as a soundbite, but woefully insufficient for theological and semantic accuracy.

And even if a victim does identify with the word ‘disgrace’, it is unwise to tell a Christian victim who has any depth in her theology that what she needs to understand and grasp is grace, the grace of God. This is the kind of (unthinking) arrogance in Christian leaders and counselors that we commonly find: they assume they know what the victim needs, how she ‘should’ think, and how she needs to change.

As I noted above, the Holcombs are not telling the church that it ought to extend grace to victims by being gentle with them while they recover from trauma. No; the Holcombs are telling victims what they need and what will help them. By telling readers that the victim needs the grace of God in order to obtain healing for her feeling of ‘disgrace’, the Holcombs could inadvertently inflate the self-conceit of many pastors and leaders by confirming them in their arrogant belief that they know what the victim needs and they have the right to tell her what she should focus on and what she ought to be doing.

The opposite of disgrace is honor, esteem, and respect

Let’s look at this from the point of view of plain English. In English, lists of antonyms for disgrace rarely include the word ‘grace’. The most common antonyms of disgrace are honour, esteem, respect. 

In my observation and experience, a victim typically needs honor, respect and esteem from those around her because she has been dishonoured, disrespected and disesteemed by her abuser.

A victim usually also benefits from interaction with other recovering victim/survivors so she can identify and know that she is not alone.

Honor, respect, and esteem from others, and opportunities to share with other survivors: these things will be balm to her aching heart. They will help wash away the trauma and shame and grief she has experienced, and thus free her to be gently healed by the Holy Spirit, in His perfect timing and gentle hands . . . not the rough fisted hands of the pastors and counsellors who have her all worked out (if only she would comply and fit into their little box).

In my experience, speaking generally, a victim also benefits from explanatory biblical teaching that accurately dismantles, refutes and eradicates the false doctrines, biased interpretations of scripture, and false guilts under which she has been trapped and imprisoned, all the ‘shoulds’ that are laid on victims, some of which are:

  • forgive him regardless; if you refuse to forgive him when he says he’s repented, you’re the bigger sinner
  • do not gossip (talking about your husband’s wickedness is gossip)
  • do not judge, think no negatives about others
  • you can and must lead him to the Lord by your prayer and gentle demeanour
  • submit to your husband (unless he asks you to do something extreme like group sex and then you must refuse nicely, in submissive tonalities)
  • marriage is momentary, so suck it up
  • you must not take a brother to court
  • if you divorce you will sin —  ‘God hates divorce!’
  • go to couple counseling or comply with the Peacemakers (trademark) program

Victims do need help and allies in the church. But victims just as much or even more need sound theology (like we all do!)

Some people may protest that I am making too big a deal of the Holcomb’s hermeneutic on grace. After all, the Holcombs are advising victims to leave their abusers — so they are much better than many other Christian authors! They are allies of victims, not opposers of victims.

However, we need to bear in mind that we all need sound theology and that impure theology is very dangerous. Scripture tells us that the Father will not allow the devil to pluck any of the elect from Christ’s hand; but at the same time, we don’t over-spiritualise that and rest on our backsides because of it. We try to learn and teach complete un-alloyed truth about the gospel. That is the thing which will guide people and most assuredly keep people in Christ unto the end.

I believe the Holcombs have an inadequate idea of grace and what they teach about it is dangerous. Therefore, even though their book may be of some help to targets of abuse, it will not help them the whole way because it mis-handles the doctrine of grace.

I strive to see God’s perspective in this. Yes; God must surely be glad if victims are helped to get free of their abusers by a book like Is It My Fault?. But ultimately, what is most important?

  • Being freed from an anti-spouse is a blessing that is temporal.
  • Being freed from sub-biblical ideas of the gospel is a blessing that possibly has eternal implications and benefits as well as temporal ones.
  • But being freed from an anti-spouse will not ultimately help the abused if the abused end up in Hell because they’ve swallowed a false gospel and believe themselves to be Christians when they are not. And as we know, false gospels can be very very subtle.

Sadly I think the Holcomb’s teaching on grace is subtly and dangerously off course. Perhaps they do not realise this, but why does Justin Holcombe teach at a seminary if he does not properly understand the Bible’s teaching on grace, or, if he does understand it, cannot adequately convey it in his published words?

Final thought

1 Peter 5:8-10 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Sadly, the Holcombs never quote this passage, and yet to my mind it’s the most appropriate passage containing the word ‘grace’ which we can offer to a Christian victim of abuse. For it sets forth this truth: After we have been nearly devoured by the adversary —  by abusers who oppose God and are under the power of the devil — the God of all grace restores, confirms, strengthens and establishes us.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Links to Part 1 and Part 2 of this review. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

For word-lovers (logophiles)

‘Disgrace’ is a word with a wide range of uses in English. Disgrace (noun) can be incurred by one’s own actions, or it can fall upon one by the disfavour of another, through no fault of one’s own. As a verb, it can mean to BE a disgrace or shame to, or to CAST shame or discredit upon.

Disgrace (definition)


  • the state of having lost the esteem of others
  • the condition of shame, dishonor
  • loss of respect or reputation, loss of honor, ignominy
  • a shameful person, thing, or state of affairs
  • the condition of being strongly and generally disapproved
  • something that brings disfavor or discredit: your handwriting is a disgrace.
  • exclusion from confidence or trust: he is in disgrace with his father 
  • the state of being out of favorcourtiers and ministers in disgrace.

transitive verb:

  • to bring shame or dishonor on
  • to deprive of favor or good repute;
  • to treat or cause to be treated with disfavour
  • to deprive of favor or good repute
  • to bring shame upon; be a discredit to
  • to bring or reflect shame or reproach upon
  • to dismiss with discredit; rebuke or humiliate: to be disgraced at court.

Antonyms of grace (link): cruelty, hardness, harshness, implacability, justice, penalty, punishment, revenge, rigor, severity, sternness, vengeance.

More antonyms of grace (link): blemish, coarseness, crudeness, cruelty, defect, deficiency, demerit, disvalue, drawback, failing, fault, flamboyance, flashiness, flaw, garishness, gaudiness, glitz, gracelessness, grotesqueness, grotesquerie, hardness, harshness, hindrance, hurdle, impediment, implacability, inelegance, interference, justice, kitsch, minus, negative, obstacle, penalty, punishment, revenge, rigor, severity, sternness, tastelessness, tawdriness, unseemliness, vengeance, vulgarity.

Thursday Thought — Lundy Bancroft’s new book: Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?

For the purposes of this book, when I refer to a “controlling partner” or an “abusive man,” I mean one who repeatedly makes you feel devalued.  He may do this through verbal abuse and mental cruelty; through pressuring, hurting, or humiliating you sexually; through controlling the money; through cheating on you or giving lots of flirtatious attention to other women so that you feel like less; by focusing only on his own needs and ignoring yours (emotionally, sexually, financially, or in other ways); by using coldness and withdrawal when he doesn’t get his way; by turning you into a servant; by chronically ignoring his responsibilities so that you are stuck taking care of things; or through violence and threats.  Devaluation and domination take many different forms.

A man who uses these behaviors is usually out to control the woman he’s involved with; but even when that’s not his intention, it still has that effect.  So rather than trying to puzzle out whether he means to control you or not, I encourage you to focus on whether his behavior ends up having a controlling effect on you.  As I discuss later, your partner is responsible for the effects of his actions, not just his intentions.  A woman can come out feeling as devalued by a partner who pays no attention to her as by a partner who monitors every move she makes and criticizes her relentlessly. 

This quote is from Lundy Bancroft’s new book: Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?: Encouragement for Women Involved with Angry and Controlling Men [*affiliate link] and is an example of the insight and encouragement it contains.  Lundy says this about his new book:

I decided to write a book of short pieces — daily readings — because abusive men create such tension and chaos that it could be difficult for women to find a chance to read a book in peace.  Digesting long sections of text can be impossible for a woman when her partner demands constant catering and doesn’t allow her to ever focus on herself.

The new book contains 365 entires, each of which takes just five or ten minutes to read.  Each day the reader focuses on just one principle and works with it mentally through the day.  I offer her a short sentence that summarizes each piece, so that she can repeat those words to herself as she processes what she has read.

Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That will also be valuable for advocates, as it wends its way through the myriad issues that abused women have to take on in their daily lives.

*Affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link. 

Divorce, language use, suffering and substitution, in “Is It My Fault” by the Holcombs (Pt 2 of book review)

Here is what troubled me in the Holcomb’s book Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Abuse in regards to

  • divorce
  • their wording and definition of domestic abuse/violence
  • suffering, suffering for sin, and in particular, whose sin
  • Jesus our substitute: what Jesus substitionally bore on our behalf

(I discussed the good points of the book in Part 1 of this review)


I am happy to report that the Holcombs say, “We believe separation or divorce to be an option in abusive relationships.” However I was greatly disappointed because they only said that in parentheses; and the context in which they said it would confuse and guilt victims. Here it is in context, from the section where the Holcombs were talking about Jesus and Women.  I have not emended this paragraph in any way, it is exactly as it appears in the book:

Jesus took scandalous stances on issues related to women. Witherington comments: “Jesus’ rejection of divorce outright would have offended practically everyone of His day. [We should add here that we believe separation or divorce to be an option in abusive relationships.] Further, Jesus’ view that the single state was a legitimate and not abnormal calling for those to whom it was given, went against prevailing views. . . It is this teaching which made it possible for women also to assume roles other than those of wife and mother in Jesus’ community.” Witherington adds, “That Jesus did not endorse various ways of making women ‘scapegoats’, especially in sexual matters, places him at odd with other rabbis, though doubtless even many Gentiles would have thought that Jesus’ rejection of the ‘double standard’ was taking equality too far. Further, we do not find any negative remarks about the nature, abilities and religious potential of women in comparison to men on the lips of Jesus . . . ” (98-9)

(The endnote cites the source of their quote from Witherington:– Ben Witherington III, Women in the Ministry of Jesus)

The problem is that the Holcombs chose to quote Witherington’s assertion that Jesus rejected divorce outright. Given that the Holcombs say they believe divorce IS an option (so they don’t share Witherton’s view that Jesus rejected divorce outright) why on earth did the Holcombs think that was a helpful quote to use?

Anyone who has compassionately counseled victims of abuse ought to know that Christian victims of abuse are desperately perplexed about the doctrine of divorce, and they are often afraid to even contemplate divorcing their abusers, because they do not want to go against what Jesus *seemed* to say. Surely the Holcombs have some understanding of the torture-of-conscience Christian victims go through about the doctrine of divorce? So why did they use that quote? Didn’t they know the quote would wrongly intensify the uncertainty and paralyzing fear in the victim’s conscience? And how on earth did they imagine that by putting their own view (that divorce is an option) in parentheses, it would smooth it all out for victims?

Victims need clear and substantial explanations about why and how the Bible says they are at liberty to divorce for abuse. Maybe the Holcombs didn’t feel they wanted to do that in their book, but they need to know that victims do not take well to little statements on divorce for abuse being given in parentheses. The parentheses, and the single off-hand sentence like the Holcombs gave, seem to minimize and hand palm our intense, excruciating dilemmas of conscience regarding divorce.

The Holcomb’s insensitivity on this issue of divorce is shown elsewhere too. They say (p 102) that “Paul also agrees with Jesus regarding matters of divorce (see, for example, Mark 10:11-12 and 1 Cor.7:10-11)” — but YIKES! — the two scriptures they cited are passages that are frequently used to claim that divorce is always a sin and divorce is not permitted for abuse! By citing those two passages, the Holcombs have stung victims and have raised doubts about the sincerity of their own (paranthetical) assertion that they believe divorce IS an option in abuse!

Their third and perhaps most egregious passage on divorce is the paragraph which comes in the section ‘How to support women in their avoidance of suffering':

Marriage is a covenant; divorce is the breaking of that covenant. When a man chooses to be abusive, he breaks the covenant. An abusive man forfeits the right to remain married unless the woman wants to stay married. If his wife chooses to divorce him she is making public his breaking of the covenant, and this does not go against what the Bible says about divorce.* It is the abuser who must be confronted concerning his or her breaking of the marriage covenant, and ‘Victims need to know that leaving is well within their rights as a child of God.”* (137-8)

[Note: there are two endnote references in this paragraph which I’ve marked here as asterisks. In the first one, the Holcombs approvingly cite three authors who argue that abuse is grounds for divorce: Craig Keener, David Instone-Brewer, and David Clyde Jones. In the other they cite Ron Clark’s Setting the Captives Free as the source of the quote “Victims need to know that leaving is within their rights…”]

Why do I think this paragraph is a blooper when I would agree with so much of it? Because of the ‘ouch’ factor in “divorce is the breaking of that covenant.” As the Holcombs make pretty clear in the rest of that paragraph, abuse breaks the covenant, and divorce is merely the public and legal result of the fact that the covenant has been broken by the abuser. The paragraph would been wonderful if they had just omitted “divorce is the breaking of the covenant” from the first sentence. As it stands, however, the paragraph resembles so many other crazy-making double messages to which victims of abuse have been subject — from the church and from their abusers. And as such, it will be a major trigger for many victims.

Why the Holcomb’s didn’t realise this confounds me. I guess it is just part and parcel of the way the doctrine of divorce and the issue of domestic abuse has been so greatly misunderstood and so wrongly handled for centuries in Christendom. Maybe the Holcombs are only partly out of the fog. Or maybe their publishers pressured them to soft-pedal the divorce topic.

They use the terms ‘violence’ & ‘physical abuse’ too frequently 

They say the term ‘domestic violence’ means more than just physical violence, that it covers emotional abuse; but on the first page they use the word violence six times and the word abuse only once. Then on the first page of chapter one (21), we read:

It is never your fault. No matter what kind of abuse you have experienced, there is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing you can think that makes you deserving of it. There is no mistake you could have made and no sin you could have committed to make you deserving of violence.

That paragraph would have been far better if the final word has been ‘abuse’ rather than ‘violence’. I understand that the Holcombs are using the term ‘domestic violence’ in the sense used by DV practitioners, but that is not their audience: their avowed audience is primarily victims. Many victims have great trouble with the term ‘domestic violence’ because they think it doesn’t apply to them, since their abuser has never hit them or beat them up.

“He’s never  hit me, so I don’t think I’m really a victim of domestic violence,” is what victims so often say when they are just at the cusp of becoming aware that their partner has been abusing them for months, years, or decades. . .  

Especially at such an early stage in a book, the high frequency use of the word ‘violence’ will put off victims of abuse who have not been physically assaulted, or who have suppressed the assaults from their memory in order to survive. Victims whose abusers have not used physical violence find it hard to identify with the words ‘violence’ and ‘physical abuse’. They think, “He hasn’t hit me, so what this author is saying doesn’t apply to me.”

Their definition of domestic violence is:

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling or abusive behavior that is used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound an intimate partner. (57)

This is a pretty good definition, although I would have preferred they said ‘falsely blame’ or ‘falsely accuse’ rather than just ‘blame.’  Why? Because abusers love to accuse their victims of abuse. When a victim — rightly — rebukes her abuser for his bad behavior, he could turn this definition around and say to whoever he can recruit as his allies, “She is blaming me for what I did. Therefore she is the abuser!”

I’ve put this in the ‘not so good’ list because I think the book would have been much improved if the Holcombs had not taken so long to get to the good definition above. They only got to it in chapter four.  The Holcombs do explain along the way, before they get to the definition quoted above, that physical violence does not have to be present for it to be abuse (22, 39). But in my view they should have arrived at their substantive definition earlier so as not to lose readers.

And it was only in that definition (and in the discussion of sexual abuse on p 36) that they used the key word ‘coercive.’ If you are wondering why that is a key word, let me explain. Leading secular domestic violence professionals all agree that ‘coercion’ is a key word because the coercive nature of most of the abuser’s tactics can hardly be emphasized enough. Any ‘innocuous’ behavior can become abusive when it is used strategically as element of coercive control.

Their discussion of suffering

Psalm 22 is expounded in chapter 12. This chapter is not so good. They quote “social justice advocate Marie Fortune” on the victim’s questions “Why do I suffer in this way? Where is God in my suffering?” (162). The quote itself is not bad, but the Holcombs could easily have made their case without quoting from Rev Fortune. Fortune is the founder of FaithTrust Institute, an interfaith organization; she is openly lesbian (proof: link 1, link 2) and has liberal theology. By the Holcomb’s quoting Fortune, it could suggest they endorse her liberalism and sexual ethics. It was particularly unwise of their publisher, Moody Press, to let this go through, since Moody is historically a Bible-based, conservative group.

After quoting Fortune on suffering, the Holcombs say

Certainly, easy answers and platitudes cannot speak to the answer for the “why” of suffering. But perhaps the cross can. Because whatever pain and suffering you are experiencing right now, Jesus has also faced. He knows intimately the depth of desperation you are feeling. But this is the crucial difference: He suffered so that you wouldn’t have to. (163) [emphasis added]

And they make a similar statement about Christ’s crucifixion in their Final Word:

Jesus knows your sufferings. Jesus experienced violence at the hands of his own people.  . . . Jesus endured the cross because of His compassion and love for you. He endured it so that you would be spared. (180) [emphasis added]

Yes, Christ knows what it is to suffer abuse and persecution, and the victim can derive comfort from knowing He can empathize with her out of His personal experience. It would have been fine if they made that point and left it at that. But by adding “He suffered so that you wouldn’t have to,” and “He endured the Cross so that you would be spared,”  the Holcombs have in my view put their foot into a victim-blaming pot-hole.

Foot in pothole

What do the Holcombs mean when they tell the Christian victim of abuse: “Jesus suffered so that you wouldn’t have to” ?

They surely can’t mean that Jesus suffered to stop abusers afflicting their targets. Jesus’ suffering on the Cross patently hasn’t yet stopped abusers from continuing to abuse. Abuse will only cease when God winds up this present world like a scroll on the Day of Judgement:

. . . the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. . . . the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. . . . But according to his promise we [those who are born again, forgiven in Christ] are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:7,10,13)

Perhaps in telling the Christian victim of abuse, “Jesus suffered so that you wouldn’t have to,” the Holcombs meant to undo the self-martyrdom edict that is some victims’ minds — their belief that they ought to stay and suffer under the abuse because their suffering will be redemptive for the abuser. That is a not uncommon belief among victims, because many Christian leaders have mis-taught the doctrines of suffering and redemption and how to respond to evildoers. But if the Holcombs wanted to undo the martyrdom knot in the victim’s mind, it would have been better if they’d unpacked the subject more, by articulating and contrasting both the wrong doctrines that led to the knot, and the right doctrines that undo it.

But rather than unpacking that, they merely said, “Christ suffered so that you wouldn’t have to” — a saying which typically means “Christ suffered for your sins.”  Your sins. But why allude to the victim’s sins, when the suffering for which the victim need consolation is due to the sin of the abuser against her?

It seems to me that the Holcombs have (perhaps unwittingly) said something that ascribes (mutualizes) the sin of abuse to both victim and perpetrator. This is just wrong.

Similarly on page 124, at the end of what would have otherwise been an excellent treatment of scriptures about deliverance and salvation from violence, they cite two verses which I found (in that context) jarring and cutting of the victim:

What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me from this body that is subject to death (Romans 7:24) 
Who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age (Gal. 1:4).

By including those two verses in a list of scriptures about deliverance from violence and abuse, the Holcombs have amalgamated two things that need to be articlated very separately when speaking to victims of abuse:

  1. salvation (deliverance) from danger from others’ sins against us, from the violent circumstances in which we find ourselves
  2. salvation from our own sins.

The Bible repeatedly proscribes the amalgamation (mixture) of disparate elements (Lev. 19:19; 2 Cor. 6:14-16; James 3:9-10; 1 Cor. 10:21; Matt. 6:24; Rev. 3:15-16). Forgive me as I state the obvious to make my point. The Holcombs are writing for the Christian victim of domestic abuse. Since she is a Christian, God has imputed her sin to the sinless Christ. But God does not impute the sin of one sinner to another sinner. God does not impute the sin of an abusive husband to his wife, the woman he has been targetting as his victim. God does not say to this woman (trigger warning):

“Take comfort, you are to blame for your husband’s abuse of you —  but don’t worry (Pollyanna smirk/smile) Jesus died for those sins so you won’t have to suffer God’s punishment for them.”

Remember, the victim has been in anguish of conscience for a long time–  “Is it my fault? … like my husband has told me it is?” The abuser’s claim that he is the victim and she is the abuser gnaws at her. “Maybe he’s right?!” Since she’s been tied up under heavy guilt by the abuser’s blame-shifting, she may hear “Christ suffered so that you wouldn’t have to” as implying that “Christ died so that you wouldn’t have to suffer the penalty for the sin of abuse.”

But she has not committed the sin of abuse!

. . . Do you see how the Holcomb’s wording can play havoc with the victim’s mind? How it can tighten the knots that the abuser has tied, rather than loosen them? Thus, for all their benign assurances that the victim is not to blame and the abuse is not her fault, a victim may interpret these two statements by the Holcombs as casting blame on her.

I am sure the Holcombs didn’t intend these statements to cast blame on the victim, but it grieves me that people say things like this without being aware of how hurtfully their words can come over to victims.

One last word on this: The saying “He suffered so you wouldn’t have to” may be meant to comfort Christian victims who believe God has ceased to love them. But if a Christian victim is thinking “God has rejected me. He has abandoned me, so He must not love me,” and we countermand her belief by telling her, “God does love you; He died for you! God loves you so much that he endured the Cross so you would be spared!” — she may feel she is being admonished yet again. She may feel that we are speaking to her like her abuser scornfully speaks to her [trigger warning]: “Your ideas are wrong! Just like so much else about you is wrong! You are one giant mistake and you don’t deserve to even breathe air or take up space in this world! ”

A better way to respond to such a victim, without validating or confronting head-on her belief that God doesn’t love her, is to validate her feelings and experiences. Help her realise how much and with what complexity of tactics she has been abused, and how her feelings of despondency and hopelessness are healthy responses to being targetted by a malignant, covert-aggressive person. In other words, elucidate and honour her responses to the abuse.

Their discussion of what Jesus substitutionally bore on our behalf

It seems to me that the Holcombs have more or less cut and pasted their (inadvertently?) victim-blaming language from their previous book to this book.

For their previous book which dealt with sexual abuse, the Holcombs have stated (source) that they chose the title Rid Of My Disgrace because of Tamar’s words to Amnon in 2 Samuel 13:13, where, in the NIV translation, Tamar says, “What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace?”  

The following is from page 21 of Rid of My Disgrace (link):

Jesus Christ was killed, not for revenge but to bear her [i.e. Tamar’s] shame on the crossg and to offer her a new robe of righteousness to replace her torn robes of disgrace.h How Tamar felt after the assault, described in verse 19, is shockingly similar to what Jesus experienced leading up to and during his crucifixion.i Jesus entered her pain and shame as Tamar’s substitute to remove the stain of sins committed against her, and he rose from the dead to bring her healing and hope. … The message of this book is that the gospel applies grace to disgrace and redeems what is destroyed.

g   Heb 12:12
h   Isaiah 61:10
i   He was betrayed by a close friend, abandoned by his other friends, mocked, beaten, publicly shamed and humiliated, and he felt abandoned by God (Psalm 22 and Matt. 27:45–46).

Yikes! Red Alert: Potentially victim-blaming, doctrinally muddled mess! 

The Holcombs say Jesus bore Tamar’s shame on the Cross. But if it’s Tamar’s shame, the reader might think it’s due to Tamar’s sin (not the sin of Amnon the rapist). In what might be an attempt to correct that interpretation, the Holcombs say “Jesus entered Tamar’s pain and shame as Tamar’s substitute to remove the stain of sins committed against her.”

Pay attention, this is tricky. Despite using the phrase “the stains of sins committed against her” they didn’t unscramble the rotten egg. It is still a mess. It’s wrongly dividing the Word.

Here is the truth:
On the Cross, Jesus became sin — not shame, not pain, but SIN.

Tamar bore no guilt for the sins committed against her, and it’s foolish to say that on the Cross Jesus entered her pain and shame as her substitute. Why would Tamar need a substitute for her pain and shame? She was not guilty of the sins which caused her pain and shame. Jesus bore the penalty for Amnon’s sin of sexualized assault, not Tamar’s sin of sexualized assault!

But of course, in Amnon’s contempt for God he wasn’t interested in the offer of grace and forgiveness from the Messiah, the promised sacrificial lamb who would make substitutional atonement.

The Holcombs have handled the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement very badly. So badly, that for all their good intentions they have added to the muddy flood of victim blaming which is awash in the church.

Yes; the abuse victim can find comfort in knowing that Christ understands her suffering because He was abused, and He is very tender with bruised reeds. But the victim doesn’t need a substitute for the pain and shame she suffers due to others having sinned against her.

Rather, the victim needs validation, empathetic resonance and compassion for her pain and shame  — something which the church rarely gives, but which Christ (and many other abuse survivors) bestow on her in abundance.

* * *

Read Part 1 of this series
Coming soon
Part 3 – The concept of Grace in “Is It My Fault?”
Part 4 – title to be decided

Related post: Prayerfully hand shame back to the abuser

Unholy Charade – A new book being written by Jeff Crippen with Rebecca Davis (and we need Your help)

I (JeffC) am beginning to write a new book in collaboration with Rebecca Davis, an author and book editor of many years experience. Rebecca recently helped our friend Dale Ingraham with his book, Tear Down This Wall of Silence: Dealing With Sexual Abuse in Our Churches (Ambassador International: 2015). The new book is entitled Unholy Charade: Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church.  Its message will be the same as A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Abuse Hides in Your Church (2012) but it will be a new book written in the light of our past three years experience with abuse victims, abusers and readers of our blog here at ACFJ.

I am asking abuse victims/survivors like yourself if you would be willing to send me a short first-person account, 350 words or less, fitting under one of the following headings, from your own story/experience of abuse.  This will make the book much more powerful and “real,” giving us some short and powerful vignettes that we could scatter throughout the book. In addition I am hoping this will be a way for abuse victims and survivors to be a vital part of this project in exposing the wicked abuser, confronting churches and Christians who enable them, and encouraging other victims. We will be telling at least a part of YOUR story.  I will use as many of your accounts as I can, and you can write on one or more of the topics below.

If you decide to submit an account I would ask that you please include the statement “You have my permission to publish this account” as part of your account, and for legal reasons of granting permission to publish the account, I will need your real name.  However, if your account is used in the book you may remain anonymous and your real name will remain private in my document files.  Just let me know when you submit your account how you want to be identified.  Also, please realize that if your account is used it may be an edited version of what you submit to me.

Finally, you may email your account to me at swordtrowel@gmail.com.  Please do not submit any accounts in the comment section of this post.  It is important that accounts come to me via this email address so they do not clutter up the comment section and because we do not want real names exposed on a public blog.

To summarize — if you want to submit an account(s), please:

1) limit the account to 350 words or less.
2) include in your account the statement, “You have my permission to publish this account.
3) include your real name, but then indicate if you want your real name attached to your account or if you want to remain anonymous.
4) email the account to me at swordtrowel@gmail.com.

Many Blessings in Christ,
Jeff Crippen

Headings – (feel free to add your own if you don’t see it listed here)

  • playing the victim
  • morphing the victim’s words
  • creating chaos
  • messing with her mind
  • minimizing
  • changing the rules
  • telling other people what they ought to do
  • objectification
  • master of the bedroom
  • boredom
  • exaggerations
  • distorting reality or rewriting history
  • double standard
  • acting like a child
  • pornography
  • lack of empathy
  • shamelessness
  • demands
  • forgiveness
  • seeks pity
  • unusually compelling charm
  • above the law
  • how he acts in the cycle of abuse (normal phase, setup, abuse, pity and excuses)
  • how your pastor/church responded when you asked them for help.
  • Working to gain allies
  • Using (mis-using) Scripture against you
  • Write on your own topic if we haven’t listed it

The good points of “Is It My Fault” by Justin & Lindsey Holcomb (book review Pt 1)

Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Abuse by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb has been a difficult book for me to review. I read it twice through, carefully marking the good and bad points with two different highlighters. Being one of the canaries in the coal mine, and seeing the anguish of other canaries who are fainting from the toxic fumes, I have had to overcome my ‘irks’ and disppointments before I could give fair praise where it is due, while simultaneously trying to encourage the authors by suggesting some improvements. I hope I have achieved this graciously.

Is It My Fault cover

The Holcombs

Before beginning my review, let me share what the Holcombs said about themselves when promoting their book on sexual abuse, Rid Of My Disgrace, (source):

Our experience in the area of abuse, both personally, professionally, and pastorally, led us to write this book. When Justin was 12, he was assaulted by a member of his extended family. So, he knows personally what victims are experiencing.

Lindsey has served for years both counseling victims of sexual assault and training leaders to care for victims. She worked at a sexual assault crisis center where she provided crisis intervention to victims of assault and conducted a variety of training seminars to service providers. Lindsey also worked at a domestic violence shelter. Many of the women she served were also victims of sexual assault.  Her graduate research was on sexual violence and public health responses.

Justin has served in ministry for almost twenty years and has counseled numerous victims of sexual assault. He has taught theology at Reformed Theological Seminary since 2001. Justin has also taught courses on sexual violence in the Sociology and Religious Studies departments as well as in the Studies of Women and Gender program at the University of Virginia.

Justin Holcomb


The good points of “Is It My Fault?” (with a few hints for improvement)

The Holcombs (mostly) do not blame the victim. “It is never your fault. You are not to blame. You do not deserve this,” are frequent refrains. They say abuse is wrong, it is sinful, and the victim has been sinned against. They use the word ‘victim’ the way I use it, and for the same reasons: “The term victim signifies the cruelty and unfairness of domestic violence and puts the responsibility for the assault where it belongs — on the assailant.” (26) At the same time, they recognize that ‘survivor’ has nuances that ‘victim’ may not have, and some people who have suffered abuse prefer to describe themselves as survivors rather than victims. (27)

They do not see abuse as a ‘relationship problem’. They quote Lundy Bancfroft saying, “Abuse is not caused by relationship dynamics. You can’t manage your partner’s abusiveness by changing your behavior, but he wants you to think he can.” (21) They encourage the victim to speak out and not be silenced (67); but they also say, “You don’t need to confront the abuser alone, because what you most need is to be safe.” (23) The fact that abusers choose to abuse is spelled out clearly in chapter 3. They do not waste time on pushing the forgiveness barrow, and they never push couple counseling or ‘reconciliation’ or talk mushily about ‘redeeming’ such and such.

They get the gender stuff right. They recognise that some victims are male, but they write to and for the overwhelming majority of victims who are women, and whose abusers are men. (28)

The principle of fleeing abuse & escaping from persecution is expounded in chapter 10, with very good use of scripture; and throughout the book it is mentioned quite often. The Holcombs sum up chapter 10 by saying,

If a woman has an opportunity to be safe and away from abuse, we believe that God would rather she take the opportunity. More than trying to reform the abuser, staying because marriage is forever, staying to show forgiveness, it is better to be safe.(140) 

They put safety first. Putting safety first is one of the cardinal rules for supporting victims, and I am very glad they got this right and gave it the emphasis it deserves. They discuss ‘deliver us from evil’ in the Lord’s Prayer and how not all people are trustworthy (25). They explain the harm domestic abuse does to children (61-3) and how abusers say they will change — but statistics show that they continue to abuse (63). While they encourage the victim to leave, to remove herself from the abuse, they recognise that leaving is not easy but dangerous and that post-separation abuse is quite common (23, 64). They talk about reporting the abuse to the police, and they recognise that going to the justice system is not an absolute guarantee of safety, but it can still be an effective deterrrent (65-6).

How to make a safety plan is very well covered in Appendix 2. And in appendix 1 there is a list of USA hotline numbers; this appendix would been better if it told readers that the hotlines only cover the USA, and if it had given the HotPeach page which gives links to domestic abuse services worldwide.

Psalm 18 is expounded in chapter 11, showing how it pertains to victims of domestic abuse; this chapter is very well done. I particularly recommend the discussion of hamas, the Hebrew word for ‘violence’ which David quotes in Psalm 18.

Psalm 55 is well expounded in chapter 13, showing how it offers great comfort to victims of abuse.

They help the reader who is unsure whether she is being abused (chapter 2). They use key phrases:– “walking on eggshells”, “the abuser’s well-stocked arsenal,” his “deceptive wielding of control” that is “difficult to discern” (32). They list things that abusers do, and how they behave. They classify different types of abuse: physical, sexual and emotional. Sadly they do not mention spiritual abuse in this classification.  I feel they ought to have given economic abuse and social abuse (isolation) their own headings, rather than lumping them in the emotional abuse category; sometimes financial abuse is so prominent that it is the first facet of the abuse that victim wake up to.  This section would also have been improved if they had put emotional abuse first, and sexual and physical after that, as all abusers use emotional abuse but not all use sexual or physical tactics of abuse.

The Holcombs pose very good questions that will help the victim reflect on her experience:

Do you see evidence that the behaviors were deliberate, controlled or planned? Does he act differently towards you when there are other people around? How has he attempted to stop your resistance to the abuse? [great question!] Does he treat others with respect, while treating you with disrespect? (38)

They give the Power and Control Wheels and talk about the cycle of abuse (39-46). They include vital teaching from Lundy Bancroft: “Abuse grows from attitudes and values, not feelings. The roots are ownership, the trunk is entitlement, and the branches are control.” ( 46) And they talk about male privilege and how domestic abuse is an epidemic (47).

Why some women stay, and the resistance of abused women are addressed well (51-54). I commend the Holcombs for referring to How Women Resist Abuse — a pdf by Calgary Women’s Shelter which I often recommend on this blog, though I would have liked to see that pfd named and extolled in the text, not just in the endnotes. And it was disappointing these important topics were embedded in a chapter titled ‘Why Does He Chose To Abuse?’ as they might be overlooked by the skimming reader.

They honour the victim and encourage her to trust herself more

You are the expert in your situation. . . we know that you will have been doing everything you can to manage yourself and any children involved. An abuser will attempt to totally disempower you and force you to stop trusting your own instincts, we would encourage you to begin trusting your own instincts and when possible seek help. (63-4)

* * * * *

Violence in the Home  is a good article by Justin Holcomb in Christianity Today Leadership Journal (Spring 2015). It gives pastors guidelines about identifying and supporting victims domestic abuse. I had very few concerns about the article, so I would recommend it being shared with pastors and leaders.

Coming soon: aspects of  “Is It My Fault?” which in my opinion are not so good

Part 2: Divorce, Language Use, Suffering and Substition, in “Is it My Fault?”

Part 3 : The concept of Grace in “Is It My Fault?”

Part 4: title to be decided

A word for the church and a word for victims, from Hebrews 12

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  (Hebrews 12:12-16)

This passage has a word for the churches to whom we are broadcasting our Cry for Justice.
And a word for victims who are suffering abuse from their spouses, families and churches.

First, the word for victims:

14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

True peace in relationship with an abuser is impossible: there is only a counterfeit peace which is obtained (temporarily) by the victim complying with the wicked coercive control of the abuser who constantly sucks and spits out her lifeblood, her dignity, her identity.

If we strive for that counterfeit peace which is no peace, we trade off holiness. We comply with the abuser’s sins against us and our children. If we comply with the Pharisaic church’s legalistic restrictions, on that mousewheel of works-based holiness we die a thousand deaths — our relationship with the Lord becomes attenuated, shrivelled, starved, ghostlike.

Rather than counterfeit holiness,

let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)

God has not called us for impurity [such as the impurity of the abuser’s corrupt sexual conduct], but in holiness. (1 Thess. 4:7)

put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor … (Eph. 4:24-25)

… that truth may be something others don’t want to hear. It may be something that people around us may never agree with. But if it’s the truth, we are righteous to speak it.

Now, the word for the church:

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,

Church — men and women who claim to love the Lord Jesus Christ — lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees! There are victims of abuse whose lives are being desiccated all around you. Learn how to support them, learn how to advocate for them. Learn how to honor them. Stand up to the Pharisees and hypocrites and cowards and flabby theologians who enable abusers to exert power and control in the church and the home.

13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Teach right doctrine, make the paths straight, remove the pot holes, boulders, ruts and chasms that you have let come into the road, so that abuse victims who have been made lame by their abusers (and by your neglect of road-maintenance) may not be put out of joint but rather healed.

15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 

The “root of bitterness” is in the hearts of the abusers, not the hearts of the victims!

What so many people label “bitterness” in the victim is simply the victim’s longing for justice and vindication. Christians: don’t palm victims off by telling them to just put their longing for justice on hold and defer everything to the perfect justice of God which will be delivered in the end. It will. But the church needs to do its part in delivering some justice to victims now — before the second coming!

When the church doesn’t give what it ought to give victims — whatever justice it can deliver in the here and now, vindication and practical support — it stands under the wrath of God. When the church stands by, as most of it currently does, carelessly oblivious to the HORRENDOUS injustice that secular family courts and allied professionals are so often delivering to victims of domestic abuse, the church has forsaken its calling to be salt and light in the earth!  And God is watching; his eyelids test the children of man (Ps. 11:14).

The “root of bitterness” is in the hearts of the abusers. Seek it there. The abuser deeply believes in his Own Entitlement. He believes that because he is the man, his woman should do what he wants.* When you challenge his entitlement, when you set boundaries, when you impose consequences for this immoral mindset and behavior, when you withstand him to his face, you will see this mindset exposed: he retaliates (overtly or covertly) in bitterness because he truly believes his thinking is RIGHT.  Scrutinize the abuser’s heart, resist and cut through his fog, his red herrings, his blame-shifting, his insinuations that his wife is crazy, unstable, untrustworthy, hysterical, a fruit cake, a nut case. Repel and denounce his claims that *she should submit to him better*, and if she did, all this problem would go away.

16 See to it that no-one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.

— of course, this must mean no-one in the church, not no-one in the world! … fat chance we’d have of stopping sexual immorality in the world!

Bind the strong man. Hold him to account. If he claims to be a follower of Christ but is exercising a pattern of coercive control over his wife, he has despised the Living God and is trampling underfoot the blood of Christ — the very thing which would be his only birthright in the Kingdom of God.

He has preferred a mess of pottage — the power of a domestic tyrant — over any birthright he might have in the Kingdom. His presence in the church defiles many: put him out!

Listen to these words by “John” who is a recovering abuser, one of the rare ones who seems to be demonstrating solid committment to deep-level change, i.e. bedrock fundamental attitudinal and mind-set change as well as surface behavioral change. There is no indication from his account that he subscribes in any way to the Christian faith, but his words here show that by holding onto power and control, abusers are holding onto a mess of pottage.

… what you actually give up when you give up the power and control is virtually nothing — and what you get is immeasurable. You get to be free, to be who you are, to access parts of yourself that have been cut off. You get to have emotional relationships, to be vulnerable; you get great relationships with your kids. You get so much more than what you give up, which is such an illusion.

(from Unclenching Our Fists: Abusive Men on the Journey to Nonviolence, by Sara Elinoff Acker, p. 97-8)

* As we acknowledge in our definition of abuse (see sidebar on the right), sometimes the genders are reversed.

* * *

For further reading:

A Cry For Justice Chorus

The Abuser as Esau

Love covers a multitude of sins, but not all.

The “B” Word (bitterness) — part of the language of abusers

Bitterness or Righteous Anger – How to tell the difference


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