by Dr. David Seibel, Head of School
Russ Pulliam has firm convictions, but he is not angry with those who oppose him as evidenced in his writings in the Indianapolis Star over the past three decades. For those with eyes to see, his Christian view of life is in every column he writes, even if he does not explicitly cite Scripture. One example of this is in an article he wrote on Coach Tony Dungy’s stance on the family. In an article entitled “Coach doesn’t back down to critics,” Pulliam’s plain and understandable style comes across with force in less than 300 words. Pulliam wrote,
“Former Colts Coach Tony Dungy had been called a bigot for his support of traditional marriage as described in the Bible. His opponents adopted the agree-with-me-or-we-will-embarass-you method of debate. It is a shallow approach to serious discussion and tells more about his critics than anything about Dungy. Tactically, his critics have handed the marriage amendment team a couple of touchdowns in a close game.”
Russ Pulliam’s passion has been to bring the Bible to bear on reporting local news and to raise up a generation of journalists who will carry the journalistic torch after he hangs up his cleats. Russ is like a stegosaurus among us in that he represents a former way of reporting the news that has unfortunately become extinct. What is unique about his ancient methodology is rejection of superficial conclusions that ignore the what, when, who facts. Pulliam’s attitude towards journalism could be summed up with this quote he shared with me at the Illinois Street Food Emporium in December 2022,
“If every square inch of everything belongs to Christ, the Christian journalist needs to ask, ‘In this story, how does He speak and in what part does he speak?’”
In this Project Legacy 2.0 Post, I introduce you to this prehistoric man, his motivations, and his methods. He is out of step with the status quo in news writing but seeking to be in step with God’s revelation.
The Prehistoric Man
Pulliam is someone whose newswriting pays attention to the eternal values of the Scriptures even as he has concentrated on current and recent events. He stands out like a stegosaurus yet He has written for the NY Times, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press. Pulliam is best known locally for his leadership at The Indianapolis Star and the Pulliam Journalism Fellowship. The Indianapolis Star was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes for its investigative reporting during Russ’s father Eugene S. Pulliam’s tenure as publisher.
Ronald Reagan said that freedom does not pass on through the bloodstream, but it seems that journalism might be transmittable through the bloodstream. Not only Russ’s father but also his grandfather made their living reporting the news. Russ’s grandfather bought newspapers and had 50 at one point in Indiana, Kansas and Arizona. Russ learned journalism at the dinner table and eventually worked his way up in his father’s business holding various editorial and management positions. Russ wrote a book on his grandfather, Publisher Gene Pulliam, Last of the Newspaper Titans. Writing high quality news is in the root system of the family tree. Moreover, Russ Pulliam’s daughter, Sarah Bailey, writes for the Washington Post, and her husband Jason works at the New York Times.
Two things happened to Russ Pulliam in the 1970s in New York City that would shape the rest of his life as a journalist. Russ said,
“The first thing that happened to me was that I began tutoring a young man and bringing him to church with me on Sunday’s. I was there as a journalist with the Associated Press and helping kids grow in Christ had become an important part of my life. I was memorizing, praying, and Bible-reading because I knew the kids needed an example.”
In poring over Russ’s work for the past month, his biblical convictions come seeping out everywhere and it is obvious that he has stored God’s Word up in his heart. Out of the abundance of the heart, the journalist writes, no? Pulliam went on to say,
“I never liked NYC, because I saw it up close as a reporter. I saw the path ahead in news writing in NYC and I knew I wanted to go down a different route. As I watched more senior reporters in NYC, I became fully convinced that being saved by grace is the answer to the world’s problems.”
In NYC, God convinced Russ Pulliam that the ancient Good News must inform his approach to writing the local news on current events.
His Historic Motivations
According to Russ Pulliam, newswriting is not opinion writing. A widespread ignorance of this fact is what led Russ to leave NYC to return to Indianapolis to work in the family business at the Indianapolis Star. Russ recalls,
“We had plenty of commentators with their points of view, but not always with factual documentation to accompany them— I was called on to help change that to bring more factual reporting to the editorial pages.”
It was around this time in his career when he was returning to Indiana that the young Russ Pulliam reached out to Os Guiness, Francis Shaeffer, and RC Sproul. He shared,
“My family is in the news writing business. How do I bring the Bible to bear on the news?”
Russ was interested in doing quality journalism that reported the what, when, where, who, but did so from a transcendent Christian perspective.
You might be familiar with the late R.C. Sproul, but you should know that the famous pastor and Bible teacher R.C. Sproul was quite familiar with the journalist Russ Pulliam. Through spending a few months at the Ligonier Valley Study Center, the young Christian journalist learned to see current events from an eternal perspective by studying theology with RC Sproul. My favorite book of 2022, R.C. Sproul: A Life, describes Russ Pulliam as one of the influential people who had spent time studying with RC Sproul at the Ligonier Valley Study Center.
Rather than hobnobbing with celebrities, Russ was seeking to knowing God more comprehensively so that he could do his journalistic work more faithfully— this is why I say he is a stegasaurus. Who does this anymore? Instead of seeking more profit or more fame, Pulliam’s desire was to be more faithful. He tells young journalists that Luke 16:10 is one of the go-to verses for journalists,
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”
In a world obsessed with technique and with therapy, Pulliam has always been gripped by the truth.
Pulliam had a similar relationship with the Christian intellectual Francis Shaeffer who wrote,
“The lordship of Christ over the whole of life means that there are no platonic areas in Christianity, no dichotomy or hierarchy between the body and the soul. God made the body as well as the soul, and redemption is for the whole man.”
In other words, if Christ is not Lord of all, He is not lord at all. Thus, the jurisdiction of the Lord of Lord’s and the King of King’s extends beyond Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and to the news you scroll through on your phone. Our understanding of reality is shaped by the news that we read so those who write it must acknowledge that God has defined reality. The historian Carl Truman shared at a classical Christian conference in 2022, “Technology is ontology.” Ontology is that branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being. Now that the majority of readers get their news from digital sources and through social media, our collective view of reality is truncated at best and distorted, or one-sided, at worse.
His Ancient Method: Coram Deo
Russ shared, “I have never thought in liberal or conservative lenses but have thought that the Bible’s categories were more normative.” If you spend more than 5 minutes studying the origins of our current political parties, you’ll see that their roots go much deeper than the 18th century. Russ Pulliam’s approach to news writing and to life is coram Deo, in the presence of God.
This phrase was coined by the Reformers but has been popularized by R.C. Sproul (watch the video below!). Sproul calls coram Deo the big idea of Christianity; having a big view of God shapes how you view politics, economics, philosophy, math, science, and journalism. To live in the presence of God and for the glory of God is what coram Deo means. Whoever you are with, whatever you are doing, and wherever you are at, you can live coram Deo if you are moment by moment seeking to submit your desires to His authority, your plans to His will, and your shortcomings to His Son’s sacrificial blood.
Russ Pulliam is a father to six grown children and a grandfather of 19. Russ shared,
“As we were homeschooling our six children, I studied the Biblical concepts of wisdom, and that became my prayer for the columns I was writing for The Indianapolis Star and for my own kids.”
This is the sort of thing that someone seeking to live coram Deo would say. Russ did not sacrifice his family on the altar in order to advance his career, but instead tried to devote both his public and private life to the all-encompassing authority of God. Russ is fun to be around, because he has grandfatherly confidence and just says what he thinks. I had the privilege of showing him around the new Coram Deo building and enjoyed watching him interact with our faculty on various issues. He has an investigative way of going through life and he seems to be the same everywhere he goes. He wears black New Balance shoes and plain button up shirts while he takes notes on 3 x 5 index cards scribbling down books and names and locations.
Pulliam has a way of taking people to task in some of his columns but does it as a gentleman. He wrote an article entitled “Taking Darwin on Faith” at the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. He wrote,
“Yet in the debate between evolution and creation, those on the Darwinian side of the discussion often make the same error that they see in their opponents.”
Pulliam cites a local pastor and IU professor (Richard Holdeman) who said,
“Science by nature does not answer questions related to meaning and purpose in the universe.”
Pulliam is able to see that everyone writes from a worldview and notes in the article that many cloak their philosophy under the banner of science. Part of what it means to live coram Deo is to notice the standard that others are applying to the current events of life.
Coram Deo is not just the name of an Academy, but an attitude that life is not about us but about God and His glory. Russ Pulliam is one such man that has chosen to live coram Deo. One of the legacies he will leave behind is the army of journalists who are seeking to bring the Good News to bear on the local news through the Pulliam Fellowship. The other is his six children and 19 grandchildren that have seen Russ apply Luke 16:10 for decades.
Soli Deo Gloria
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