Many times we get asked if believers should throw away all of their theological books that are authored by unbelievers or if they should be learning things from theological books that are authored by unbelievers. Here is my response:
First of all, these books should not be used in evangelism. They should not be given to unbelievers. But they can be helpful to believers. Some books are helpful in showing damnable inconsistencies; the authors actually expose themselves, and this can be helpful in exposing heresies. Also, an unbeliever can follow certain rules of exegesis and logic and come up with something that is helpful. For example, in my sermon on Romans 9:1-3, I found Gill and Haldane very helpful in getting at the meaning of Romans 9:3: "for I myself was wishing to be a curse from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to flesh" Here's some of what I said and what I quoted in that sermon:
==Lastly, let's look at a very interesting thing Paul says in verse 3. He says he was wishing to be a curse from Christ. That's some strong language, isn't it? What does it mean? Well, as you probably already have guessed, there has been a lot of controversy about this passage and thus a lot of different interpretations. And I must admit, I've had a hard time with this phrase. Does it mean that Paul wished he could be damned so the lost Jews would be saved? It couldn't be. How could a believer wish to be apart from Christ for any reason? And some think that he wished to be a sort of atonement, whereby Paul's damnation atoned for the sins of the Jews. This couldn't be what Paul was wishing for. So what was Paul wishing for? Well, I've found an explanation that I think best explains Paul's meaning here, and it's from Haldane's commentary on Romans. I also found Gill's commentary to be good when talking about the fact that Paul cannot mean that he wished to be damned. So I'd like to read some excerpts from them. Now I want to preface this by saying that I am not endorsing or promoting either of these men, and I am not making a commentary on their spiritual state when I read from them. But I think these men have said some things that we could benefit from.
The first quote I'm going to read is from Gill, who says what it cannot mean, especially in light of what Paul just said at the end of the previous chapter. Here's Gill:
"Many have thought that his meaning is, that he had so great a value for them, that he could even wish himself, and be content to be eternally separated from Christ, everlastingly banished from his presence, never to enjoy communion more with him, or in other words, to be eternally damned, that they might be saved. But this is what could never be, and which he knew, was impossible to be done, and was contrary to that strong persuasion he had just expressed in the close of the foregoing chapter. Nor is it consistent with his love to Christ, to wish any thing of this kind; it would make him to love the Jews much better than Christ; since, according to this sense, he must wish to be parted from him, that they might be saved, and consequently must love them more than Christ: nor is it consistent with, but even contrary both to the principles of nature and grace; it is contrary to the principles of nature, for a man to desire his own damnation upon any consideration whatever; and it is contrary to the principle of grace, which always strongly inclines to be with Christ, and not separated from him; in a word, to be accursed from Christ in this sense, could be no proper means of the salvation of the Jews, and therefore it cannot be thought to be desirable, or wished for. Some things are said indeed for the qualifying of this sense of the words, as that the apostle said this inconsiderately, when he was scarcely himself, through an ecstasy of mind, and intemperate zeal, and an overflow of affection for his nation; but this is highly to reflect upon the apostle, and to represent him in a very unworthy manner, when it is certain he said this with the greatest deliberation and seriousness; he introduces it in the most solemn manner, with an appeal to Christ, the Holy Spirit, and his own conscience, and therefore it could never drop from him through incogitancy, and an overheated affection."
I'd like to add that if it were the case that Paul is here being intemperately zealous, then you'd have to conclude that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write something sinful, which could never be. It reminds me of the people who say that David and the other Psalm-writers expressed sinful thoughts in the Psalms. That means that the Holy Spirit inspired them to write something sinful, which could never be.
So now for the interpretation from Haldane:
"Many interpretations have been given of this passage. Calvin supposes that Paul, actually in 'a state of ecstasy,' wished himself condemned in the place of his countrymen. 'The additional sentence,' he says, 'proves the Apostle to be speaking not of temporal, but eternal death; and when he says from Christ, an allusion is made to the Greek word anathema, which means a separation from anything. Does not separation from Christ mean, being excluded from all hopes of salvation?' Such a thing is impossible, and would be highly improper. This would do more than fulfill the demands of the law, -- it would utterly go beyond the law, and would therefore be sinful; for all our affections ought to be regulated by the law of God. Some understand it of excommunication. But the Apostle could not be excommunicated by Christ, except for a cause which would exclude him from heaven, as well as from the church on earth. He could not be excommunicated without being guilty of some sin that manifested him to be an unbeliever. It is not possible that one speaking in the Holy Ghost could wish to be in such a state. Paul's affection for his countrymen is here indeed expressed in very strong terms, but the meaning often ascribed to it is not for a moment to be admitted. That any one should desire to be eternally separated from Christ, and consequently punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, is impossible. The law commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but not more than ourselves, which would be the case, if to promote his temporal or spiritual benefit we desired to be eternally miserable. It should also be recollected, that it is not only everlasting misery, but desperate and final enmity against God, that is comprised in Paul's wish as it is generally understood. It represents him as loving the creature more than the Creator. But who could ever imagine that the desire of being eternally wicked, and of indulging everlasting hatred to God, could proceed from love to Christ, and be a proper manner of expressing zeal for His glory? It would be strange indeed if Paul, who had just been affirming, in a tone so triumphant, the impossibility of the combined efforts of creation to separate him from the love of Christ, should, the moment after, solemnly desire that this separation should take place, for the sake of any creature, however beloved.
"To understand the meaning of this passage, there are three observations to which it is of importance to attend. In the first place, it is the past, and not the present tense, which is employed in the original. What is rendered 'I could wish,' should be read in the past tense, 'I was wishing, or did wish,' referring to the Apostle's state before his conversion. The second observation is, that the verb which in our version is translated 'wish,' would have been more correctly rendered in this place boast; 'for I myself boasted, or made it my boast, to be separated from Christ.' For this translation, which makes the Apostle's meaning far more explicit, there is the most unquestionable authority. The third observation is, that the first part of the 3rd verse should be read in a parenthesis, as follows: 'I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart (for I myself made it my boast to be separated from Christ) for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.' By the usual interpretation, the Apostle is understood to say, 'I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart,' and without stating for whom or for what, to add, 'I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.' But it appears evident that these words, for my brethren, form the conclusion of the above expression, I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. Paul had himself formerly made it his boast to be separated from Christ, rejecting Him as the Messiah; and to prove how much he sympathized with the situation of his countrymen, in the bosom of his lamentation over their fallen state, he appeals to his former experience, when, before his conversion, he had been in the same unbelief, and personally knew their deplorable condition. He also intimates his sorrow in such a manner as to show that he is far from glorying over them, having been himself as deeply guilty as they were; while, according to the doctrine he was inculcating, it was in no respect to be ascribed to his own merits that he was happily delivered from that awful condemnation in which, with grief, he beheld them now standing."
This is, I believe, the most plausible explanation of what Paul is saying here.==
I hope you see how this can be helpful.