1. I have been asked this question many times & have also wondered about this myself.
2. Good, valid, thoughtful question.
3. One thing I love about following Jesus (Christianity) is that we are free to wrestle with our faith & work through tough questions. We are never called to blindly follow.
Ok, now for my answer to this great question.
1. Yes, Jesus clearly taught that we can only have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16-18; John 14:6 I can list a lot of verses if need be. Also, the other books of the Bible ((writings of the Apostles)) clearly taught this).
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.(note the definite article)
Acts 4:12 "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."In addition, the Hebrew Bible teaches of a Messiah who would come to save people.
2. So what about those in other places, who have NO Christian influence?
A. First, God is not hiding somewhere playing hide-and-seek. He has revealed Himself primarily through Christ, but ALSO through His creation. If someone seeks God, He will be found. The problem is, most people don't really care about God, they are too focused on their day to day temporal life. BUT if they seek God, they will find Him.
Here are a couple of verses:
Isaiah 65:1 "I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, 'Here am I, here am I,' To a nation which did not call on My name.
Jeremiah 29:11 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 'You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 'I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.'
Matthew 7:7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
If you really want to dig in for yourself, and seek what the Bible teaches, here is another passage that focuses on this question: Romans 1:18-32
B. There are millions and millions of Christians who accepted Christ in a place without Christian influence at all. There are millions and millions of Christians already living in places where it is illegal to be a Christian, where the only accepted religion is Islam or Atheism.
Question- How did they become Christians when they weren't raised with it? When, in many cases, there weren't even any Christian missionaries to come and tell them? Where they weren't able to even read a Bible for themselves?
1) there is a passage in Acts 8:25-40, that addresses this type of person. They were a) seeking God, b) without the New Testament writings, c) and from a non-Christian world (Ethiopia). Notice what is happening behind the scenes.
NLT Acts 8:25 After testifying and preaching the word of the Lord in Samaria, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. And they stopped in many Samaritan villages along the way to preach the Good News. 26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, "Go south(1 )down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza." 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. 29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and walk along beside the carriage." 30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 The man replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. 32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. 33 He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth." (1 )34 The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?" 35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. 36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "Look! There's some water! Why can't I be baptized?" (1 )37 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.2) Although typically God uses missionaries, God often uses dreams, visions, & other methods to help people come to know Christ in places where missionaries cannot go.
Here are a few links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3j9EDqFBS0&feature=related (1 of many parts)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90ozM2DmkaQ&feature=related an Egyptian Muslim radical
An example of someone in the USA even experiencing this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNlZ7Zl8xkU
Often, these converts to Jesus will become the pastor/ leader/ missionary to their own people group.
3) Voice of the Martyr's and other groups have done a lot to sneak Bible's into places where the Bible isn't suppose to go. So the word of God is not even bound from places like North Korea, Indonesia, China, & Iran.
C. Every major world religion (except Judaism) (and most minor ones) consider the Bible to be a Holy Book that is to be followed. Also, every major world religion (except Judaism) (and most minor ones) see Jesus Christ as a holy man. Someone who should be listened to.
Unfortunately, their OTHER holy books often contradict the Bible (which they consider a Holy Book too). And their other holy books change what Jesus did in order to fit their theology & doctrines.
Some of these religions: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witness, Rastafarianism
The primary difference between Christianity & Judaism is that those in Judaism do not accept Jesus of Nazareth as their messiah, while Christians accept Jesus of Nazareth as their messiah.
The difference between these religions and Christianity comes down to two major things:
1) Christians follow only one book & allow that to form their theology
2) Christians only follow Jesus
I could expand even more. But these were the main points that satisfied me when digging into this question.
Summary: God is never bound. If someone seeks God with their heart, He will reveal Himself to them. And He is able to sustain their life until they have the chance to believe. Because of this, God is just & His judgment against those who ignore & refuse to submit to Him is fair.