Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ – Part 1

The first of a seven part series.  See 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Truman Madsen wrote a series of essays that was eventually published in book form under the title of Eternal Man. I have come to find out that I favor the theological ideas of B. H. Roberts and Truman Madsen, and I would like to provide a review of this book for my own benefit if nobody else’s. Chapter 1 of the book serves as an introduction and outline for the rest of the book. I would like to encourage discussion and comments on any of these reviews.

Madsen begins this chapter titled ‘Whence Cometh Man’ by claiming that the most revolutionary set of axioms of religion have been provided by revelation to Joseph Smith. These are:

A – Man and woman are not derived from the void. They are beginningless. Their primal existence, as uncreated and indestructible intelligences, is everlasting.

B – The ‘creation’ of spirit or soul is not a fiat act at the time of mortal conception or birth. It is really Divine procreation in the world of glory.

C – Physical birth in mortality is not totally at the initiative of God the Father. It is in part the result of premortal, individual election and foresight which are in harmony with uncreated law.

He rightly states that most members of the church fall in two camps about these ideas. One camp feels that such ideas are so remote and incomplete that a practical person avoids talking about them. The other camp feels that these ideas easily explain all events and eventualities. I suspect it is most healthy to be somewhere in-between.

Madsen then gives some brief glimpses into the implied answers to philosophical puzzles that grow out of the above statements.

The Problem of Identity

Might I cease to be? Is there anything permanent about me?

The axioms above suggest that our conscious, purposive existence is guaranteed forever. While we may progress through stages, selfhood remains – and extinction is impossible.

The Paradox of Creation

How can I be anything except what God made me? How could an unchanging, immaterial First Cause bring a tangible me into existence?

There is no creation from nothing. Elements may be ordered from simple to complex, but we are not just a product. We are an originator. We are coexistent and coeternal with God. In the ultimate sense we were not created, but have always been in existence.

The Mind-Body Problem

Is one part of me more important? Is mind reducible to matter, or matter to mind?

Madsen forwards a tripartite model of existence – intelligence, spirit, and body. The spirit in Mormonism is not some ghost, but also a material entity. The idea that the spirit and the body are somewhat similar in nature, as opposed to being radically different. Thus mystical denials of the reality of the material world, and ethical castigations of the human body as utterly evil are seen as extreme delusions.

The Problem of Human Freedom

In Mormonism, freedom is not created. We are, and always will be, independent in the stage of development that our voluntary decisions have led. There are limits to what we can do, but we are not a billiard ball. No power in the universe can coerce our complete assent or dissent. This dissolves the absolute wall between Deity and man. It also undercuts behaviorists, mechanists, fatalists, and predestinationists. Some say that a belief in free will requires a pre-existence. Identifying free will with the eternal intelligence does that.

The Problem of Evil

Why are there inequalities? How can God be good and all powerful yet permit suffering?

God is not responsible for the limits of uncreated element, nor for the principles of the gospel plan. It is by application of these principles that he became what He is, not by some cosmic accident. Likewise he aids all of us. God the Father and Jesus Christ have the power to enable us to climb above tragedy into everlasting joy.

We were not thrown into the world, but did ask to be born. We might have avoided mortality – billions of others did. These ideas exonerate God from man’s inhumanity to man.

The problem of Self-Awareness

How can I know my real self?

With the idea of preexistence, knowing yourself becomes something of recollection instead of research – recovery rather than discovery. This happens in three main ways:

Inspired introspection
Revelation to prophets
Patriarchal blessings

When it comes to the problem of self awareness, preexistence makes all the difference. Madsen ends by quoting Joseph Smith’s statement that if men do not comprehend God, they do not comprehend themselves. And then asks what of the man who really comprehends himself.



10 Responses to “Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ – Part 1”

  1. 1 C Jones April 30, 2009 at 9:39 am

    The first time I read Eternal Man, I had to have a dictionary close by. I love T.Mad and his way of making these ideas comprehensible to the least saint like me, and for his love for Joseph.

    I’m so looking forward to reading your thoughts on this!

  2. 2 Inthedoghouse April 30, 2009 at 10:19 am

    I am presently reading Defender of the Faith, The B.H. Roberts Story by Truman Madsen. I believe that covers both of your favorite “theological ideas” in one book. lol Will put Eternal Man on my list of reading to do.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson April 30, 2009 at 5:52 pm


    Thanks. You make me want to write the first review RIGHT NOW!


    That DotF book is one I probably need to read. Maybe I could get it for my anniversary (Becky, hint – hint).

  4. 4 barcelo May 28, 2009 at 7:06 pm


    I’ve ended up here via the sad news of Truman’s passing. I hope these posts now get more attention, it seems apporporiate. I’ll chip in anything I can over the next few days. But first to re-read eternal man.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson May 29, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Thanks. This was sad news indeed.

  1. 1 Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ Part 2 – Identity or Nothing « Small and Simple Trackback on August 6, 2009 at 10:21 pm
  2. 2 Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ Part 3 – Creation and Procreation « Small and Simple Trackback on August 6, 2009 at 10:22 pm
  3. 3 Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ Part 4 – The Spirit and The Body « Small and Simple Trackback on August 6, 2009 at 10:24 pm
  4. 4 Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ Part 6 – Freedom and Fulfillment « Small and Simple Trackback on August 6, 2009 at 10:25 pm
  5. 5 Reviewing ‘Eternal Man’ Part 7 – Revelation and Self-Revelation « Small and Simple Trackback on August 6, 2009 at 10:26 pm

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