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

by | Aug. 13, 2018


Little did Truman Madsen know how influential the Joseph Smith tapes would be.

In a 2008 interview for a Wheatley Institution video, "Eternal Man, Reflections on the Life and Thought of Truman G. Madsen," longtime Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew said most products sell on a bell curve, going up for a while before coming down, but always coming down. Truman Madsen's Joseph Smith lectures have been the exception.

"Almost nothing stays in print forever. Authors do not understand this. The reality is that not many stay put forever," Dew said. "Those tapes, the bell curve defies all description. They have just gone up and have never ever come off a certain level. So what that says is it's been years since they were ever promoted, they're long past their promotional stage. . . . It's all word of mouth and that is so rare. I can probably count on my fingers and toes the number of things published in the years I've been in the publishing world where that applies. That's a short, short list. And that's the only series of tapes that fit that category."

Why have the Joseph Smith lectures been so successful?

John W. Welch, professor of law at Brigham Young University and editor and chief of BYU Studies, was a student and longtime friend of Truman Madsen. He said Madsen's extensive academic background combined with his rigorous research, which contributed to the inception of the Joseph Smith Papers, along with his personal experience as a missionary and mission president in New England, where Joseph Smith grew up, are all contributing factors.

"Truman's spiritual experiences led him to testify genuinely and authentically of the truthfulness of Joseph Smith's prophetic calling," Welch said. "Truman's command of both historical and doctrinal dimensions made his lectures electrifying."

Robert L. Millet, a professor emeritus of ancient scripture at BYU, offered another possible reason — Madsen's focus on Joseph Smith's doctrinal contributions. While some have "vexations of the soul" linked to differing accounts of the First Vision, how the Book of Mormon was translated, DNA studies, and Joseph Smith's polygamy, too few look at the "fruits of Joseph Smith," Millet wrote in an email to the Deseret News.

"In my mind, it was Truman’s effort to give attention to Joseph Smith’s teachings that invited the Spirit of the Lord into the homes and apartments of impressionable missionaries and more seasoned members of the Church," Millet wrote.

Brad Wilcox, author and associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU, admires how Madsen "graded" Joseph Smith using a rubric of intellectual gifts. He also appreciates Madsen's immense depth in studying the prophet's life.

"It frustrates me when Joseph Smith is brushed off so easily by people reading and sharing posts on social media. Their comments reveal only a surface understanding of the Prophet and the times in which he lived. They have not bothered to go deeper. Truman went deeper," Wilcox said. "The deeper I go, the more impressed I am with the Prophet. There is nothing that anyone could study in depth about Joseph that would shake my testimony. The problem is that too many are content to settle for the sensationalism and surface-level sound bites that fly around the internet."

The Voice

Another engaging element of the lectures was Madsen's voice, which some called a "golden voice," along with his manner of speaking and emphasis placed on certain words and phrases, Millet wrote.

"Truman was a gifted orator," Millet wrote. "Young and old listened intently to his messages."

Madsen majored in speech at the University of Utah, "emphasizing courses in the psychology of speech, persuasion, discussion and radio techniques." He also participated in debate and did some radio announcing, according to his biography.

In the early 1970s, Madsen was asked to audition as a replacement for Richard L. Evans, the voice of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Music and the Spoken Word, but was not selected, according to his biography.

A person once told Ann Madsen they listened to her husband every night because his voice helped them to fall asleep. The family laughs about that, but to them, each recording of Truman speaking is a cherished treasure.

"My children love to listen to his voice," Ann Madsen said. "His voice was special. It was a gift that God gave him so he could do this, so he could teach."

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