Christianity can often be misunderstood to be primarily an ethical philosophy: something that you believe with your mind. And although this is certainly a component, it is not the essence of what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian is to be a follower of Christ, to know him. The way that we come to know God is through God’s own initiative. God came to earth and became a man, Jesus Christ (2nd member of the Trinity). He suffered as a human, and took the penalty for our own wrongdoing. For God to be just, he cannot leave the evil things that we do to go unpunished. But in his love for us he satisfied his justice, by Jesus, the son that he loved, taking our place instead of us, so that we can come to know him. Knowing God comes about through faith in Christ. It transforms your very being, in the depths of your heart you know the love of God and you love him in response. As such, the essence of Christianity is not entirely about what you know, but who you know.
Therefore, when the question implies that belief in Christ is limited to certain cultures, it assumes that Christianity is a philosophy of the mind. When it is more than just that, it’s about a relationship with the creator God that involves your heart, mind and soul, which is a response to the knowledge of who God is. The knowledge of God can be found in different places for people to respond to: creation, conscience, the Bible and experience.
General Knowledge of God
There are two things that all people have access to, which are pointers indicating God’s existence and character: the world around us, and the moral conscience within us. We are also reminded of this in the Bible, in Paul’s letter to the Roman Church (1: 19-21) he writes of God being revealed in nature. Romans 2:15 says that those who are not Jews and do not have the Jewish moral system (God’s Law, to be found in the Old Testament) will be judged by what they do know not what they do not. Paul reminds the Romans that responding to God is not based on understanding and following the ‘Law’, which had been revealed to the Jewish nation, in the case of non-Jews who had no opportunity to learn the law.
For all who have sinned without the law will perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when, non-Jews, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law Romans 2: 12-13
Because people have different opportunities of understanding who God is, people will respond to different pointers. That is not to say that anyone comes to know God through any other than Jesus Christ. But that responding to God, does not need to be based on knowledge of Christian belief, or even of Jesus Christ in the way that many Western Christians know him, for ‘God does not show favouritism’. Therefore when someone does not have an opportunity to hear about Christ’s death and resurrection, they will not be judged as those who do. However, having said all this, in many ways it is unknown how God will reveal himself to people who are unlikely to hear about Jesus due to culture. Above is an account of what the Bible says, and my own speculation from my understanding of the Biblical text. God’s own method of drawing people to an understanding of himself is his own prerogative.
What about you?
In case I get misunderstood, I want to state clearly that I do not think ‘all paths lead to God’. What I am saying is that God is Just, and will reveal himself to people with, or without, the Christian message. As such, God will require that we respond to him in the capacity that we have access to understand him. My point is this: it may be uncertain how God will reveal himself to other people who have not heard the Gospel, but if you are reading this article you are, most likely, not in that position. An understanding of how God has shown him-self throughout history is available to you, the Bible. If you live in a Western country you may even have Christian’s you are in contact with, who would be able to talk to you about their experiences of God. I hope this encourages you that God is just, and that he wants you to respond to him.
Copan, Paul., ‘If you were born in India you would be a Hindu’, Article: http://www.bethinking.org/truth-tolerance/introductory/if-you-were-born-in-india-you-would-be-a-hindu-.htm
Pickering, Mike., ‘What about those who have never heard the Gospel?’, Article: http://www.bethinking.org/truth-tolerance/intermediate/what-about-those-whove-never-heard-the-gospel.htm