Spiritual, But Not Religious?

Current trends indicate that many young adults are moving away from organized religion and exploring spirituality in different ways.

According to the National Study of Youth & Religion survey…  some teenagers say that they “are spiritual but not religious.” The study shows an increase in the amount of youth that believes this to be somewhat true or very true. The study states that “these results were consistent with the gradual shift away from conventional or organized religious belief and practice among adolescents. While still viewing themselves as spiritual, some adolescents seemed to be moving somewhat away from the religious part of their identity”.

Denton, M. L., L. D. Pearce, and C. Smith. Religion and Spirituality On the Path Through Adolescence, Research Report Number 8. National Study of Youth and Religion, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008.

Therefore, there is a growing market for books that include other faiths and belief systems and address spiritual issues without necessarily being Christian. Some book suggestions from Booklist November 2016 and 2017 Top 10 Religion and Spirituality Books for Youth include…

as the crow flies     calling my name   passion





Campbell, Patricia J., and Chris Crowe. Spirituality in Young Adult Literature: the Last Taboo. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Cheaney, Janie. “Five Red Flags to Watch for in YA Christian Romance Fiction.” Redeemed Reader, 16 Feb. 2018, redeemedreader.com/2018/02/all-for-love-five-red-flags-to-watch-for-in-ya-christian-romance-fiction/.

Denton, M. L., L. D. Pearce, and C. Smith. Religion and Spirituality On the Path Through Adolescence, Research Report Number 8. National Study of Youth and Religion, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008, retrieved from http://youthandreligion.nd.edu/research-findings/reports/

Francisco, Kimberly. “Get Genrefied: Christian Fiction.” Stacked, 10 Dec. 2014, stackedbooks.org/2014/12/get-genrefied-christian-fiction.html.

Graham, Ruth. “Christian YA Novels like the Carter House Girls and the Christy Series Offer an Alternative to Gossip Girl.” Slate Magazine, 23 June 2010, www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2010/06/are_you_there_god.html.

Herald, Diana Tixier, and Cynthia Orr. Genreflecting: a Guide to Popular Reading Interests. Libraries Unlimited, 2013.

Hinze, Vicki. “Christian Fiction v Clean Read: Are You Confused?” Christians Read, 13 Apr. 2017, christiansread.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/christian-fiction-v-clean-read-are-you-confused-by-vicki-hinze/.

Keels, Nadine C. “Diversity in Christian Fiction.” Prismatic Prospects, 8 Jan. 2018, prismaticprospects.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/diversity-in-christian-fiction/.

Koonse, Emma. Tyndale Expands Its Children’s and YA Publishing Program. Publishers Weekly, 17 Nov. 2016, www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/religion/article/72056-tyndale-expands-its-children-s-and-ya-publishing-program.html.

Little, Dena. “What’s New in YA? Amish Teen Romance.” The Hub, YALSA, 11 July 2013, www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2013/07/11/whats-new-in-ya-amish-teen-romance/.

Lipka, Michael, and Claire Gecewicz. “More Americans Now Say They’re Spiritual but Not Religious.” Pew Research Center, 6 Sept. 2017, retreived from www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/06/more-americans-now-say-theyre-spiritual-but-not-religious/.

Romero, Deidra. “A New Hybrid Genre: Young Adult Amish Books.” Family Fiction, 10 Sept. 2013, www.familyfiction.com/a-new-hybrid-genre-young-adult-amish-books/.

Walker, Barbara J. The Librarian’s Guide to Developing Christian Fiction Collections for Young Adults. Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2005.

Wenner, Emma. “Tyndale Introduces Crossover YA Titles.” PublishersWeekly.com, 25 Oct. 2017, www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/religion/article/75125-tyndale-introduces-crossover-ya-titles.html.



Types of Christian YA Fiction

Christian Fiction is most easily defined as an overall theme that includes many different genres.  Regardless of the genre, Christian Fiction always contains Christian themes, values, and morals. The following list and examples, while obviously not comprehensive, includes many of the more common genres used in Christian YA Fiction writing.

Action/Adventure (A genre of fiction in which action is the key element, overshadowing characters, theme, and setting)

edge of dark

Amish (Books in which the characters, story, and setting are influenced by the traditional Mennonite lifestyle and faith)


Apocalyptic (Fictional stories in which destruction and end of the world is coming)

left behind

Bible (Stories based on the actual stories from the Bible)


Contemporary Fiction (Stories set in the current day, in which the characters have current day issues)

find me

Fantasy/Science Fiction (Usually take place in settings that do not exist in reality. Science fiction “could” happen and is based on actual scientific knowledge. Fantasy is just that, a fantasy)

by darkness

Graphic Novels (Can be any type of genre, just told in comic-strip, visual format)

left behind graphic                                     manga                            pilgrim graphic

Historical Fiction (A fictional story set in a recognizable period of  history. As well as telling the stories of ordinary people’s lives, historical fiction may involve political or social events of the time)


Horror (Stories that scare, shock or startle)


Mystery/Thriller (Mystery books focus on solving the puzzle, while thrillers keep you on the edge of your seat – waiting for what will happen next)

bad connection

Romance (The primary focus of this story is on the relationship and romantic love between individuals, usually with a satisfying ending)

worth the wait

One cannot discuss the different genres that are used in the creation of Christian YA Fiction without a comment on genreblending.  By combining elements from different genres,  you can broaden your storytelling and keep fiction new and exciting. In this way,  you can draw in the readers expecting the comfort of their favorite genre, and expose them to new ideas, themes, and settings from another genre. Due to genreblending, Christain YA Fiction has something to offer almost every reader.


Issues in Christian YA Fiction

Lack of Diversity

Black Christian YA author Nadine C. Keels is one of the few voices inside the industry calling for change with her Prismatic Prospects blog, addressing the Christian need for the We Need Diverse Books movement and highlighting Christian material with multicultural themes.

Diversity Between The Pages advertises itself as “your stop for diverse Christian fiction” but it actually serves as a stunning example for how deep the bias and the majority white influences extends in the industry. The majority of the contributors for the site are white (although one bills herself as being “Latina at heart” in a disturbing echo of Rachael Dolezal) and the majority of the most recent recommendations featured white authors writing POC protagonists. In just the past month they gave glowing reviews to 4 books by the same white author, each one featuring a minority protagonist struggling to live free as a Christian and evangelize to hostile neighbors in a foreign “unChristian” country from a Muslim woman converting to Christianity in a predominantly Islamic country to a Christian Chinese women wanting to have lots of babies and minister to her neighbors to a South African teen girl falling in love with a “good” white Afrikaaner.

Overlap between Adult and YA Christian Fiction

Because Christian fiction is so “clean,” many teens end up reading the Christian novels generally marketed to adults, like the Left Behind series or Karen Kingsbury romances. Christian parents read the books together with their teens sometimes and discuss them afterwards. But while a lot of the Christian chick lit and romances feature young women less than 30, Christian YA is still important for its take on specifically teen and young adult issues like puberty, high school, cliques, and college.

LGBTQIA+ Issues in YA Christian Fiction

Throughout the extensive research for this project, we only came across one explicitly Christian book to directly handle the issue. In “Bright Purple: Color Me Confused“, extremely prolific author Melody Carlson features a young protagonist who is disgusted and repelled by homosexuality and then suddenly finds out her beloved best friend is a lesbian. Although the young heroine ends up lobbying for her friend to be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion, the theme is one tolerance and unconditional love and not celebrating or affirming or full inclusion. The book even ends with a disturbing passage outlining that while the protagonist is determined to express nothing but love for her friend, to keep being her friend and praying for her, she is still devoutly against homosexuality, convinced that it is a choice and unnatural and that her friend may still become straight one day. The issue of acceptance versus affirmation is a huge one in the queer Christian community right now as an increasing number of churches preach that they’re open to all and love everybody without ever addressing deeply-held prejudices, stigmas, and fundamental discomforts. As users of the GayChurch.org directory increasingly reported lukewarm receptions and refusals to conduct same-sex marriages at churches that proclaimed themselves to be gay-friendly, the Church Clarity project launched in October 2017 with an emphasis on churches making their policies clearer and more public.

Increasingly, a frank discussion of the connections and conflicts between queer teens and Christian churches and communities have been addressed in novels by typically secular authors and released by mainstream publishers, such as Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown and The God Box by Alex Sanchez. However, they are generally excluded from being considered Christian YA due to their “unclean” nature, such as use of profanity and occasional depictions of sexuality.

“Stealth” Marketing

While many of the modern chick lit and Christian romances repeatedly advertise the theme of following God’s plan, many of the thriller and fantasy romances very carefully exclude any mention of Christianity, faith, God, or the Bible from the publisher’s blurbs, back of the book summaries, dust-jacket teasers, etc. The characters often don’t start out as believers, or at least not very devout, but are drawn into a growing or deeper faith through the discovery of prophecies, divine occurrences, mystical coincidences, secret texts, answered prayer, wisdom from an older individual, etc. This is part of a deliberate attempt to draw in non-believers or Christian teens who think Christian YA is hokey/cheesy/uninteresting/moralistic. Christian parents and churches familiar with Christian fiction still buy the books because they recognize the publisher names and know it’ll be clean YA with a strong Christian message. Melanie Dickerson’s very anachronistic “historical” romances and adventures in particular have been enjoying crossover success, with teens not interested in the Christian imagery and sub-themes often dismissing it as just being part of the culture at that time. The publishers refer to these as “crossover” titles but non-Christian teens and parents have complained of feeling like they’re being tricked or misled into reading works that intend to minister to or evangelize the reader.

Characteristics and Appeal Factors of Christian YA Fiction

In the past, Christian YA Fiction had a very clear point of view. In order for a book to be considered Christian Fiction it followed the following guidelines…

Spiritual Element

Christian Characters

Lack of Violence

No Profanity

The Absence of Explicit Sexual Content

Today, it is very hard to distinguish between Christian Fiction and some mainstream fiction titles. Christian Fiction today can contain the following elements…

Combining of Genres

More “Real-Life” Flawed Characters


Can Include Violent Elements and Sexuality  

According to Barbara J. Walker in her book Developing Christian Fiction Collections for Young Adults, she states “The use of an occasional “hell” is still reserved for villains and  prodigals and even social drinking is mostly avoided by the main characters.”  (Walker 19)

In October 2017, Tyndale House introduced crossover YA titles. According to Publishers Weekly, “Tyndale, which started to expand its children’s and YA divisions last year, wants to combine clean Christian content with challenging issues teens are faced with today, all while appealing to readers with various faith backgrounds.” For the complete article go to www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/religion/article/75125-tyndale-introduces-crossover-ya-titles.html

A Brief History of Christian YA Fiction

The Seventeenth through Nineteenth Centuries

In the 1600s, the Puritans’ strong religious beliefs influenced writings. Bible stories were the main source of reading for children. Early books include The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and The Puritan Primer (1685).  The author Martha Finley was born in 1828.  She created the popular twenty-eight volume A Life of Faith: Elsie Dinsmore series.  These books tell the story of Elsie Dinsmore Travilla and her children.  For more information about Martha Finley http://www.newreleasetoday.com/authordetail.php?aut_id=608.


The author Grace Livingston Hill was born in 1865.  Many publishers tried to remove the religious references in Grace Livingston Hill’s first books until they began to see a large market for her work.  She wrote seventy-nine novels in her lifetime and is considered one of the premier writers of Christian fiction.

grace2          grace1

C.S. Lewis, writer of the classic series The Chronicles of Narnia was born in 1898.

The Twentieth Century

The creation of  Christian YA series continued into the twentieth century.   The first book in The Sugar Creek Gang series by Paul Hutchens was written in 1940.   This thirty-six book series is about the adventures of a group of fun-loving, courageous Christian boys.

sugar creek

The book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was written by C.S. Lewis in 1950. This was the first book in the series entitled The Chronicles of Narnia. At the time, C.S. Lewis was an established author of adult books and his children’s books were considered a risk. This series has sold over 100 million copies.

In the 1970’s, Barbour Publishing created the Heroes of the Faith series. This series contained biographies of important figures in history such as Corrie Ten Boom and Fanny Crosby.


Lois Walfrid Johnson has created many different series since the 1990’s.  Her popular works include the Adventures of the Northwoods and The Riverboat Adventures.  Her newest works are the Viking Quest books and Freedom Seekers.For more information on Lois Walfrid Johnson and her books visit https://www.fantasticfiction.com/j/lois-walfrid-johnson/

lois1     lois2

Heralding what was yet to come, Christian fiction started to evolve when Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye created Left Behind in 1995. This apocalyptic fiction originally was written for adults, but youth novels and graphic novels follow.

The Twenty-first Century

The Christy Miller series, originally written by Robin Jones Gunn in the late 1980’s continued to grow and evolve with the addition of The College Years (2000) and The Married Years (2014).

The Christian YA Fiction industry has seen tremendous growth in new genres. Christian suspense, mystery, adventure, and fantasy books are becoming very popular. Christian historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and romance books continue to please readers as well.  Christian YA Fiction has something for everyone. Recent bestsellers include…

Jill Williamson By Darkness Hid (2009)

Melanie Dickerson The Healer’s Apprentice (2010)/The Noble Servant (2017)

Jenny B. Jones There You’ll Find Me (2011)

Lisa T. Bergren Waterfall (2011)

Rachelle Dekker The Choosing (2015)

by darkness     healer    find me   waterfall   choosing

For a list of authors who write from a Christian perspective click here http://jillwilliamson.com/novel-teen/list-of-recommended-young-adult-authors/

Christian or Clean Read?

Christian fiction and clean reads are very similar in many respects.  Both types of books will appeal to readers who are looking for books that do not contain inappropriate language or characters with loose morals. However, there are some clear differences between Christian and clean.

   Christian Fiction…

  • Is written for the Christian market
  • Contains a deliberate, significant, overt Christian message
  • Based on Christian principles and morals
  • Contains one or more characters that identify as Christian (or will by the end of the story)

   Clean Reads…

  • Written for the general market, no overt Christian messages
  • May contain religious elements, but they are not required

For more information on this topic…  https://christiansread.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/christian-fiction-v-clean-read-are-you-confused-by-vicki-hinze/