Truman Madsen died earlier today. For those who don’t know, Madsen was a long-time professor of philosophy at BYU. His intellectual influence, I think, came in two forms. First, he produced a series of popular lectures on Joseph Smith and other gospel topics. These were not academically rigorous productions, but I think that they opened a window into a much broader and intellectually exciting vision of Mormon history and theology for many members. Madsen’s lectures were also a wonderful link back to an earlier, more oral Mormonism, one that placed a real premium on powerful preaching. He was a powerful preacher. Second, and perhaps more importantly, he provide two or three generations of BYU students with a role model of a man who remained absolutely committed to the Restored Gospel while at the same time willing to grapple with the hard questions of philosophy.
As I have been told the story, Madsen began his graduate training at California but abandoned his program because of anti-Mormon bias in the philosophy department. He completed his Ph.D. at Harvard, where I believe he studied under Paul Tillich. (His dissertation, which I actually pulled from the Harvard stacks for fun while I was in law school, was on Tillich’s theology.) Prior to graduate school he received a blessing from Elder Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency, who promised him that his testimony would remain strong through his studies and that he would be a means of blessing the Saints and Kingdom. It was a prophetic blessing that was fulfilled.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8)