Review: The Back Side of the Cross

The Back Side of the Cross, Diane Leclerc and Brent Peterson, foreword by Lynn Bohecker. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2022.

Summary: A look at the models of the atonement from the back side of the cross, where those abused and abandoned are found, exploring how Jesus died not only for sinners but the sinned against.

Often the atoning work of Jesus on the cross is framed in terms of Jesus death for sinners. Sometimes, this only adds to the burdens of the abused and abandoned, who believe that God is joining the chorus of those heaping blame and shame upon them. The authors of this work consider such people as living on the back side of the cross and what they seek to do is to re-frame the doctrine of the atonement in ways that offer hope and healing for the abused. They do so without tossing out the different models of the atonement but considering ways. Substitutionary atonement means a substitute victim, one who endured abuse and abandonment, violence and scapegoating, nakedness and shame. The cross reveals God’s justice toward those who oppress. Christus Victor offers the hope of justice.

The cross speaks powerfully to abandonment, how the Godhead experiences both abandoning and abandonment. The nakedness and shaming of Jesus (in reality, there were no loinclothes on the crucified), offers hope that God in Christ has entered into these dimensions of the abused. And the resurrection offers the hope of reviving grace, adoption as the beloved of God, the mending of wounds.

One of the chapters that may be challenging is the idea of forgiving God. The abuser struggles with the question of “where was God when they were being abused?” They cried out, and God didn’t save them from their abuser. The back side of the cross becomes the place where God’s “guilt” is addressed and also taken on God’s self in Christ. It allows the possibility of forgiving God.

While we are speaking of forgiveness, the authors discuss the pressure the abused often face to forgive their abuser. They argue there is no true forgiveness without repentance and confession on the abuser’s part. Also, while scripture teaches forgiveness, the authors speak of the long road to forgiveness, one involving their own healing in Christ, and growing in their assurance of the love of Christ. Hasty forgiveness often fails to get at the root of the abuse or wrong and actually further victimizes the victims of abuse, something the church has often done. This chapter may well be one of the most important in the book.

The book concludes with three chapters of pastoral resources. One is the importance of the church in advocating for children and implementing practices that protect children. The second explores the practice of lament, rare in many of our churches and so important in the healing of the abused and abandoned. The third chapter offers liturgical resources including ways the eucharist can signal Christ’s welcome and healing for the abused and abandoned.

This book is valuable in two ways. Unlike some who worked with the abused, this is not a cry to abandon the atonement, labeling it as divine child abuse, but to recognize the ways in which the Triune God has entered into the messiness of abuse and abandonment and the place of the victim at the back side of the cross. It is also a wise book of pastoral counsel in the important work of offering hope and healing for the abused, which begins by allowing them to express the raw feelings, the anger toward God, the sense of betrayal and broken trust. This is substantive theologizing and counsel rather than superficial sugarcoating, that faces the hard theological questions of abuse.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Speakeasy.