The Testimony of Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson
By Rev. Dr. Edward Mulraine
Not since St. Augustine wrote Confessions and C. H. Spurgeon penned All of Grace has one been able to amalgamate their personal life’s story with their theological understanding and come to a conclusion of favor by Grace. The Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, longtime pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York, shares his life’s journey as preacher, pastor, husband, father, and civil rights activist in this wonderful memoir entitled Witness to Grace: A Testimony of Favor.
Dr. Richardson begins his book with a controversial confession after his loss as president of the National Baptist Convention. He had served as General Secretary for thirteen years and decided it was time to take the helm. When he lost the election Dr. Richardson said he was angry at God—a sentiment many Christians would consider harsh and heretic. But with theological might and divine persuasion Dr. Richardson defends his thesis by stating, “To be angry with God is not disrespect, nor is query blasphemy. It is the last resort of a believer’s frustration: addressing the only one who has the answer.” From this didactic, Dr. Richardson goes on to illuminate his theory of how disappointment and failure, “sets us up to see the grace of God!”
Personal experiences, social justice issues, and theological assessments are conveyed throughout the book; from his upbringing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a faithful mother and firm father, to his inability to read and dropping out of college; the grace of God shines through in each chapter. He credits the grace of God for healing him after a surgery left him paralyzed. He credits the grace of God for bringing him back to ministry after he had broken his promise to God. He credits the grace of God for opening doors at a historically black college and graduating after someone stated that he was “not college material.”
The book reads like a sermon, but in a dialectic and realistic way—breathing inspiration into anyone seeking direction in ministry. It reassures the grace of God in good and bad times and it shows how God’s favor can spread beyond the pulpit into other aspects of life. What is particularly striking and easily embraced is his chapter on “The Function of Legacy: What Means These Stones.” In it, Dr. Richardson urges the necessity of knowing one’s Black History and communicating it in a purposeful and significant way so that history will never be misrepresented or lost. He chastises America’s education system for perpetuating white superiority and robbing Black people of identity. He sets the stage for race reality by proposing that if one is Black, of any shade, regardless of their socioeconomic or ethnic background, they are treated as Black, as worthless and oppressed because of the color of their skin. However, Black people can overcome the assault of social oppression by the grace of God and their history, which will ignite self-appreciation and self-worth in the midst of racism.
As the book progresses you can see the favor of God all over Dr. Richardson. From barely graduating from Virginia Union University to graduating from Yale Divinity School and ultimately becoming chairman of the Board of Directors at Virginia Union. From being a local, uneducated preacher to becoming one of the more profound minds and voices to embrace the pulpit around the world. From chauffeuring civil rights icons to becoming an iconic civil rights leader.
The ascension of Witness to Grace climaxes with the issues of the day from Black Lives Matter to the COVID-19 pandemic making grace relevant for our time and space. Dr. Richardson has been a mentor and inspiration to many, including myself. It is he who has taught me the importance of applying faith as a means to ministry and grace as a means to life. Witness to Grace should be added to any minister’s shelf for inspiration and reflection
Rev. Dr. Edward Mulraine is the pastor of Unity Baptist Tabernacle in Mount Vernon, New York and author of The Ten Step M.A.N. www.edwardmulraine.com