How Did I Get to Do This? Career Reflections from Dan Reid

How Did I Get to Do This? Career Reflections from Dan Reid

books diagonal

After a day of multiple conversations with authors in Southern California, Jon Boyd commented to me, “I can’t believe I get to do this!” I knew what he meant. I’d had a similar day. And I often wonder how I got to do this.

I had no intention of entering publishing, even though I grew up in a household where books were numerous, IVP books were commonplace, and there were even some IVP authors worked into our family network. Nearly fifty years ago, in college, I was reading IVP books by Francis Schaeffer as soon as they appeared. And years into working at IVP I was surprised to learn that at Hampden-Sydney College my maternal grandfather had taught an undergrad named Francis Schaeffer.

Dan Reid 1973 Foundry Worker
Dan Reid in 1973 when he worked in a steel foundry

But I had no aspiration of working in publishing. It took me a while just to work through my passion for climbing and skiing and settle down to being a student. And even when I finally had a philosophy degree in hand, I counter-intuitively devoted nine months to hard manual labor in a steel foundry. There in the foundry I learned my Greek verb conjugations at breaks and lunchtime, seated in front of a glowing heat-treating furnace. I’ve never regretted that experience as a college grad—swinging a sledge hammer, grinding castings, or running a Rube Goldberg contrivance with a devious mind of its own. Our castings went into the steel maws of heavy construction equipment, and to this day the business end of excavating equipment catches my reflexive glance. It gave me an enduring appreciation for the blue-collar working life.

There followed about seven or eight more years of schooling, until with an MDiv and PhD in hand, and a stint in university ministry, three generations of missionary legacy in Asia drove us (now a family of four) across the Pacific to the Philippines. After two years teaching in a seminary, we returned to the States with some anxiety over the next step. Teaching was the obvious answer. But . . . let’s say that doesn’t work out right away. I practically dreamed of books, so publishing might be interesting. Inquiring in two or three directions, I found out that IVP was beginning a reference-book line and was looking for an editor. The job description fit me, so I applied. And since my high school English teacher was not one of my references, the year 1986 opened with our family moving from Seattle to Downers Grove, Illinois, and my entering into work at IVP. So it was that providence led me to a vocation that has endured for over thirty years. And 1990 found me back in the Seattle area as a probationary pioneer telecommuter, armed with my killer app, the personal fax machine.

I’ve long said that I’m in publishing for the ideas, and more specifically the cultivation of the life of the Christian mind as a witness to God’s reign. In short, publishing was a great and unanticipated matchup with my personal vocation and a surprising fulfillment of my global missional interests. More than thirty years on, I still don’t think of myself as a creature of the industry, though I’m sure I’ve become that. One thing did gradually clarify for me: publishing is a fascinating intersection between the academy and the real marketplace, where ideas are exchanged for real dollars. I came to appreciate the ways in which publishing enforces a discipline on how ideas are targeted, expressed, packaged, and disseminated. It’s an intersection that thrums with creative energy, and the result is books doing their work of shaping, nurturing, and changing minds and lives. At their best, Christian books refract the kaleidoscopic spectrum of our witness to God’s kingdom.

At their best, Christian books refract the kaleidoscopic spectrum of our witness to God’s kingdom.

Dan Reid Sailing at dusk
Dan practicing his love of sailing

I have been grateful for the opportunity to work for a publisher centered on shared Christian commitments and questions. Over the years we have extended our reach, but also sent ever deeper shafts into the Great Tradition of Christian thought and practice. Having sailed Northwestern waters for over a decade, I sometimes think of IVP’s publishing in nautical terms. Like a sailboat with a weighted keel, even when heeled and driving into the wind, these commitments keep our decks above water, and our good ship responsive to the tiller and true to course.

Academic and reference-book publishing is part of that weighted keel. And it was my original commitment to reference-book publishing that has given continuity to my career. What came to be known as the “Black Dictionary” series, starting with the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels and the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, proved to be the one idea that kept giving. Personally, I considered it my continuing education in biblical studies. But it has also been an intentional nudging of Western evangelical biblical scholarship to expand its borders and engagement. So publishing has been for me more than just a business. It has been a project in Christian scholarship.

So publishing has been for me more than just a business. It has been a project in Christian scholarship.

As I write, I’m taking part in an Africa Christian Scholarship Consultation at Fuller Seminary. Here in the David Allan Hubbard Library I have browsed the reference room shelves and found our dictionaries and other reference resources on the shelves, obviously well used and loved, mingled with books I consulted when I was a student at Fuller thirty-five years ago. At home I have copies of these books translated and published in multiple languages—Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian. I look at these and wonder, How did I get to do this?

Editor’s Note: December 31 will be Dan Reid’s last day at InterVarsity Press. Upon his retirement, Jon Boyd will step in as Editorial Director for IVP Academic. Learn more in the press release.