The Man Born To Be King by Dorothy L. Sayers (1943)


“God was executed by people painfully like us, in a society very similar to our own—in the over-ripeness of the most splendid and sophisticated Empire the world has ever seen.”

Heretics were once tortured and executed.  We know that, of course, but who decides what heresy is?  Human judgment is always subjective and has ranged from doctrinal disputes to perceived blasphemy.  While the outcome isn’t necessarily capital punishment, it always involves the condemnation of one who is judged to have offended God.  This isn’t just ancient history.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

It has become commonplace in our time for the story of Jesus to be staged as a play, a film, or even a television miniseries, but when Dorothy L. Sayers first wrote The Man Born to Be King, it was actually against the law in Britain to represent any person of the Holy Trinity on the stage. Technically, since her plays were radio productions rather than stage productions, Sayers was within the law. Nevertheless, she stirred up controversy when The Man Born to Be King was first performed. Today we wouldn’t think twice about the propriety of such an undertaking, and many have indeed tried to capture the drama and spiritual depth of the Gospels through various mediums. But few, if any, have told their story as successfully as Sayers.

With these radio plays, Sayers was attempting to help modern listeners better understand and identify with the biblical text through making the characters within it more relatable as real people who lived in the real world—not stained glass figures or Sunday school flannel graph cutouts. She believed these biblical stories had become so commonplace and riddled with clichés that people had become dulled to their message and impact. By making her characters more complex, fully rounded, and believable as real human beings, by having them speak in understandable modern language, and by placing them in truly dramatic situations, Sayers hoped to make them come alive in a fresh way. And she wanted to do so as artfully as possible, not creating mere religious propaganda but rather a vivid, dramatic presentation.

Sayers achieved her goal through a respectful reworking of the biblical texts by exploring the interior motivations of characters such as Judas and Lazarus and by adding her poetic touch.

What are the borders of liberty when dramatizing scripture?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

Dorothy L. Sayers


Dorothy L. Sayers

(1893–1957), novelist, religious playwright and apologist. The daughter of an Anglican clergyman, she qualified for a first class honours degree in modern languages at Somerville College, Oxford, in 1915. For a number of years she worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency until the success of her detective novels, of which the last was published in 1937, gave her financial independence. She established her reputation as a religious writer with The Zeal of Thy House (1937) and The Devil to Pay (1939), plays written for the *Canterbury Festival; it was subsequently extended by her radio dramatization of the life of Christ, The Man Born to be King. This was broadcast at monthly intervals between 21 Dec. 1941 and 18 Oct. 1942, and caused widespread controversy by its representation of Christ by an actor and because the dialogue in which he took part was in modern English. From 1940 she published a number of volumes containing studies, lectures, and essays on theological topics. In these writings, as in her plays, she combined a high degree of professional competence with fresh and penetrating insights into the meaning of the Christian faith in the modern world. Her major work was an annotated English verse translation of *Dante’s Divine Commedy. Hell was published in 1949 and Purgatory in 1955, but at the time of her death she had only made a start on Heaven, which was completed by Barbara Reynolds and published in 1962.


Sources & Resources

Letters ed. B. Reynolds (4 vols.: vol. 1, London, vols. 2–4, Cambridge, 1995–2000). J. Hitchman, ‘Such a Strange Lady’: An Introduction to Dorothy L. Sayers (1975); R. E. Hone, Dorothy L. Sayers: A Literary Biography (Kent, Oh., 1979); J. Brabazon, Dorothy L. Sayers: The Life of a Courageous Woman (1981); C. Kenney, The Remarkable Case of Dorothy L. Sayers (Kent, Oh., and London [1990]); B. Reynolds, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul (1993; rev. edn., 1998). C. B. Gilbert, A Bibliography of the Works of Dorothy L. Sayers (Hamden, Conn., 1978; London, 1979); R. T. Youngberg, Dorothy L. Sayers: A Reference Guide (Boston [1982]).

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1469–1470.

Durkin, Mary Brian. “Dorothy L. Sayers: A Christian Humanist for Today.” Religion Online. Accessed March 20, 2015.
Godfrey, Monica. “The Man Born to Be King: Contextualizing the Kingdom.” Inklings Forever vol. 7. 2010.
Meilander, Gilbert. “The Greatest Drama Ever.” Touchstone. March/April 2013.
Reynolds, Barbara. Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
Sayers, Dorothy L. Letters to a Diminished Church. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.
———. The Man Born to Be King. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

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Rick Wilcox

Rick is voraciously interested in the holistic transformation of people individually and in an organizational context - enabled by technology, educated continuously through multi-channel systems and informed by the wisdom of history's greatest thinkers. He is a Ph.D. student at Faulkner University, focusing on the appearance of the Logos in English Literature. He earned a Master of Arts in Christian Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Science in Management from Sam Houston State University. His undergraduate studies earned a BA with double majors in Sociology and Theology from Houston Baptist University. Rick is an ordained minister who leads the Parenting Teens Adult Community at Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands Texas.