Truman Madsen – Mormon Philosopher 1926-2009

Truman G. Madsen
Truman G. Madsen

On Thursday May 28, 2009 it was announced that one of the great philosophers and historians of Mormonism, Truman G. Madsen passed on to the next life, succombing to cancer. Members of the church, and LDS Bloggers worldwide are bidding him a fond farewell.  This post pays my tribute to a great man, and a great mind, who leaves a lasting legacy.

“‘To be or not to be?’ That is not the question. What is the question? The question is not one of being, but of becoming. ‘To become more or not to become more. This is the question faced by each intelligence in our universe.”  – Madsen, Eternal Man

Madsen was a beloved and honored contributor to Mormon scholarship and education. He taught for 37 years at Brigham Young University,

Religious Studies Center
Religious Studies Center

While at BYU, he held the title of Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding, promoting study of not only LDS doctrine but all world religions. During his life he also served as a director of the BYU Jerusalem Center. Among Madsen’s amazing legacy of recordings, lectures and writings are unparalleled essays on Joseph Smith, a definitive biography of Joseph Smith, studies of the prophets of The LDS Church,   Temple Worship , and hundreds of lectures on finding truth.

“A little boy, I’m told, wrote a letter to God (this is published in a collection of children’s letters). It said, “Dear God, How do you feel about people who don’t believe in you? A friend of mine wants to know.” Recently I was invited to sit in on a graduate class elsewhere–a group most critical and equipped with jaw-breaking terminology and bone-breaking arguments against religion.

Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ

At one point I said, “So I’ll know where you’re coming from, would each person here consider: If you had only one question to address to Jesus Christ, what would you ask him?” Well, most of those in the room had a grievance and said that they would ask a kind of “pick-a-fight” question. But one lad, in the corner, didn’t respond, and, having been urged, finally said with a thoughtful smile, “Well, if I had only one question, I would ask, ‘How am I doing?”’ – Madsen, On How We Know

byu jerusalem_center
Jerusalem Center

His in-depth study of the Life of Christ, lectures recorded and  filmed on location in the Holy Land, were of great fascination and education to me personally. These lectures greatly enhanced my experience and deepened my personal witness of Jesus the Christ, as I participated in a BYU Study Abroad program to Jerusalem in 1986 – 87.  Additional links to Madsen’s work, and videos can be found at the official Truman Madsen Website. Other links and a bio can be found at the Truman G. Madsen Wiki Page.

I was hopeful to find a video version of Madsen’s lecture on Gethsemane, entitled The Olive Press, which had a tremendous impact on me. Madsen truly had a grasp of The Atonement on a higher level than the rank and file:

face toward Christ“The greatest tragedy of life is that, having paid that awful price of suffering “according to the flesh that his bowels might be filled with compassion,” and being now prepared to reach down and help us, he is forbidden because we won’t let him. We look down instead of up.” – Madsen, The Highest In Us,

Sadly, there is not much offered by and about Truman Madsen on YouTube (yet). He possessed such a unique persona and voice, that it is a delight to see him speaking, as well as hear and read his words. The video I have attached (getting a lot of play time in the past 24 hours) offers a great sample of Madsen’s riveting storytelling and talent as a master teacher. Here, he details the beginning of the practice of polygyny instituted by the prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo (filmed on location in Nauvoo).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

God bless your next adventure in the great beyond, Brother Madsen! No doubt, you are already instructing and teaching the angels in their heavenly duties. – MoSop

Brother Madsen
Brother Madsen

“My testimony to you is that you have come literally “trailing clouds of glory”. If you only knew who you are and what you did and how you earned the privileges of mortality and not just of mortality but of this time, this place, this dispensation, and the associates that have been meant to cross and intertwine with your lives…what in my bitter moments I call this spook alley of mortality…if you knew the latent infinite power that is locked up and hidden for your own good now – you would never again yield to any of the putdowns that are a dime a dozen in our culture today.” – Madsen, The Highest In Us


  1. I appreciate your website in honor of Truman. He was a giant among men and one of my favorite teachers. I just enjoyed his series on the Prophet Joseph Smith On Sacred Ground. Decided to look him up and found your site. He has given me many advanced insights. I cherish his gift and miss him. But I think he will be with Brother Joseph and his Lord. They were the focus of his existence,
    Thank you,


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