How Truman G. Madsen's Joseph Smith Lectures Are Still Changing Lives 40 Years Later

by | Aug. 13, 2018

Of all the letters Truman G. Madsen received over many years from people who read or listened to his Joseph Smith the Prophet lectures, one from a man in Australia stood out to Madsen.

In a 2005 email, Adam Carthew, of Melbourne, told Madsen that 16 years earlier when he was 15, he was the only member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his school. One day while riding with his companion to a home teaching visit, one of Madsen's Joseph Smith tapes was in the car's cassette player. The young man became engrossed in what he was hearing and asked to borrow the tapes.

Listening to Madsen's Joseph Smith lecture series became a turning point in his young life and solidified his desire to serve an LDS mission and marry in the temple, Carthew wrote to Madsen.

"Listening to those tapes provided an environment for me to gain a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith," Carthew wrote. "I look back on my last 16 years and so many decisions and experiences have been influenced by that home teaching visit. I am not sure if you have even heard of Geelong in Victoria, Australia, but you influenced a young man there."

In his reply, Madsen wrote: "No letter I have received on the Joseph Smith recordings has meant more to me than yours."

While Carthew's letter held a special place in Madsen's heart, there were many others who penned meaningful thank yous, and countless more who didn't, after similar experiences with the Joseph Smith tapes.

This month marks 40 years since Madsen first used his golden voice and unique speaking style to give eight, one-hour lectures over four days at BYU Education Week in 1978. Madsen's Joseph Smith lectures recorded on tapes, CDs, MP3s, and book have continued to be popular items for over four decades, bringing the Prophet's mission to life and strengthening testimonies for what could be millions of listeners.

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Speaking at Madsen's funeral in 2009, the late Elder Richard G. Scott, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1988-2015, summarized Madsen's legacy with a reference to the hymn, "Praise to the Man."

“I don’t know of anyone who has done more to fulfill the statement that: 'Millions will know Brother Joseph again’ than your beloved Truman.”

Building a Cabin

Truman Madsen, the grandson of the seventh LDS Church President Heber J. Grant, died at age 82 in 2009, following a productive career as a scholar and BYU professor of philosophy and religion, director of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, orator and prolific writer, among many other achievements and accolades.

Ann Madsen, Truman's wife, said the Joseph Smith lectures are one of the centerpieces of her husband's work, and that his love and testimony of the Prophet was based on a lifetime of research. She has no doubt the lectures were inspired.

"He knew all the bad, he knew all the good, and he loved Joseph Smith with all his heart. I think that really comes across in the lectures," Ann Madsen said. "All he wanted to do in his life was help people gain testimonies of the gospel, the restoration, the Prophet Joseph, but most especially Jesus Christ."

Truman Madsen apparently drew upon that stored-up knowledge for four days in 1978 when giving the Joseph Smith lectures at BYU Education Week, because his family doesn't remember seeing him skim over any notes or revise any outlines, his son Barnard N. Madsen said.

After a good morning's work at their Brighton cabin site, Barnard Madsen remembers his father looking at his watch and saying, "Whoa — gotta go!" Barnard then drove his father down the canyon to Provo in their old truck, with Truman Madsen changing from overalls to a shirt, tie and sport coat along the way. They pulled up to the curb of the Marriott Center with only minutes to spare, Barnard Madsen wrote in his father's biography, The Truman G. Madsen Story: A Life of Study and Faith, published in 2016.

"He wasn't reviewing anything. We were building a cabin," Barnard Madsen said. "He just kind of did it, which is really impressive to me."

Over the years when Truman Madsen stood to speak, he rarely carried notes, his wife said.

"He was blessed with the ability to speak," Ann Madsen said. "He would just stand up with nothing in his hands and deliver these inspired moments."

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