The
Inspiration
Project

WITH BRENDAN CORR

GUEST Professor Michael Adams

Professor Michael Adams

Episode 34

Professor Michael Adams: Episode Description

On this episode of ‘The Inspiration Project’, Brendan Corr talks to Professor Michael Adams about how Michael got into the corporate law specialisation, the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, what is good law in the first place. And so much more.

Among other things Michael shares:

  • The absolute concept of law and a local generic expression of it
  • How Michael got into studying his specialised field of corporate law
  • The differences between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law
  • What is a good law? What would be the hallmarks of good law?
  • What is the universal concept of morality in law?
  • How Michael became a Christian
  • How does Michael bring together his faith and a life that’s beyond our own?
  • How does Michael make sense of the conception of law and the Christian experience?

Professor Michael Adams: Episode Transcript

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This podcast is sponsored by Australian Christian College, a network of schools committed to student wellbeing, character development, and academic improvement.

Introduction:
Welcome to The Inspiration Project, where well-known Christian share their stories to inspire young people in their faith and life. Here’s your host, Brendan Corr.

Brendan Corr:
Good morning, everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Inspiration Project Podcast. We hope that you’re enjoying the conversations we’re having with people of significant influence who have been able to incorporate their faith into their professional practise. This morning, we’re talking with Professor Michael Adams. Professor Adams is an internationally recognised specialist in corporate law, governance, security markets regulation, and legal education. He’s been writing, teaching and regularly presenting on all these topics for over 20 years. He’s a fellow of the Australian College of Educators, the Australian Academy of Law, and The Governance Institute of Australia. Professor Adams was the former president of the Australian Law Teachers Association, the Corporate Law Teachers Association, and The Chartered Secretaries of Australia. He’s a co-author of 10 books, 30 chapters in other books, 50 articles, and over 250 conference and seminar paper presentations. In 2000, Professor Adams was the recipient of the Australian University Teacher of the Year for Law and Legal Studies. Professor Adams, it’s delightful to talk with you. That’s quite a busy programme that you have on your plate. Tell me a bit about what it means to be an international recognised specialist in corporate law.

Michael Adams:
Thank you very much, indeed. It’s a real pleasure to be part of this podcast. Actually, if I may, and this sounds very strange, in 2020 during COVID, I actually had the honour to be named Academic Lawyer of the Year for the whole of Australia by Lawyers Weekly, which is one of the big journals that is run. And I have to say, it was a complete and utter surprise, but I felt very honoured to have that recognition, which was delightful. I guess the simple answer is I love what I do. Even now, as I approach in the next few years, retirement from a full time role, I actually have been incredibly blessed to do a job that I absolutely love. I know not everybody has that position and can I encourage your listeners, particularly if you can do something you love, even if you have to do some other things in between to pay the bills while you’re starting in your career. But I found pretty early on, over 30 years ago that I actually love to share, not just my technical knowledge, but probably much more importantly, my interest is, I’m sure everyone’s seeing pictures of the United Nations where people have headphones on and people are speaking in any language and it’s been translated simultaneously into 20 or 30 languages. And in fact, in 2018, I had the honour of speaking to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and my own speech was translated into something like 20 different languages. I do remember my wife sitting in the court, which is in Luxembourg, which I said, is a beautiful place with headphones on and she was listening to me in French, in Mandarin and Spanish and et cetera, so it’s quite a thing. But how it relates to me is that I found law even at university, and then certainly when I did my post-graduate studies it was easy to understand. Now, law is very complex and we’ll probably come back to this topic, but I found my area particularly around the legislation and the corporations law, particularly in Australia is a Commonwealth Act with 1,492 sections. I had the ability both to memorise those sections, but more importantly, I could explain it to other people, whether it be other lawyers or obviously as an academic to other students, and also the professionals, what things really mean in a plain straightforward way. I believe my real skill is to do simultaneous translation. And for a while, while I was in Sydney, before I moved to UNE, I was a consultant to a major law firm, and one of the partners there who’s still a friend, his name is Michael Vasakas used to phone me and say, “Michael?” So it’s Michael to Michael. “Michael?” “Yeah.” “Section 180.” “Yeah.” “What does it mean in subsection one, paragraph B?” And rather than him looking it up, what it is to say, “Well, Michael, this is what it means and this is how we can apply it in this context.” That would save him thousands of dollars of time, research and help. And I found it the most natural thing in the world. There is a downside, and if I could do a comparison, I know we’re going to talk a bit about faith later. The Bible sometimes has very clear, simple statements, which we can all understand. In fact, whenever I think of the parables, at one level, how simple and straightforward, but the more we dig, there are exceptions, there are contexts. And sometimes I’ve been criticised that I oversimplify the law and a consequence of that is it misses some of the nuances. However, I guess I do believe 80% of the time, things are simple and straightforward and we spend that extra time on that 20%. For me, reading the Bible and understanding it has that sort of similarity with a distinction. I’m sure you’re not going to be surprised by this, the distinction being the Holy Spirit sometimes can actually give us not so much a different interpretation, but context and meaning to now. Even if the words in the Psalms were written, what, 3,000 years ago, ironically or should I say more special is that the words can mean something to me right now in 2021. And that’s pretty powerful. That doesn’t happen in The Corporations Act. I can tell you that.

Brendan Corr:
Well, actually you’re right, we will come to issues of faith a little later in our conversation, but listening to you make that description, my mind, is wrestling with what it implies or some of the questions that it prompts in my mind about the absolutizing of law and governance and the concept of there being law. And how that gets captured in language or in sections or in acts, and then how it is interpreted in context. In some ways, you would think law should be absolute, continuing, unchanged. That’s what precedence is about, I guess, in arguing law, and yet we also see that it does change and it varies depending on nation to nation. As somebody who spent 20 years, more than 10,000 hours to become an expert, where do you say that notion of an absolute concept of law and a local generic expression of it?

Michael Adams:
Seriously, that is an excellent question and the answer is more particularly within our system of laws. Australia follows Britain, the US, South Africa, most of the Commonwealth countries to know what is known as common law. And that can be traced back to 1066 and William the Conqueror coming into the UK from France, being totally confused by very localised laws. And as a king who had no real understanding of English culture, history, language decided to apply a common system. Now, by the way, this was not for common people. This was for the other landlords and knights and people who own castles and land, but there was a degree of consistency that was to be applied, and that’s roughly where we get the concept of common law. And it took nearly 1,500 years before we started to see some breaking down of common law to develop a concept called equity, and so fairness and justice filled some gaps of the common law, which was pretty harsh. Legislation did exist, but the drafting legislation, which is coming to your point, is always going to end up in ambiguities. And I’m going to give a real example to show how it changes. But before I do that, in teaching corporate law and other law subjects that I’ve taught, I’ve always worked on explaining the basic principles, so what do we mean by honesty? What do we mean by reasonable care and diligence? What do we mean by trust? What do we mean by not abusing your confidential information? These are key concepts in the Corporations Act, and they were developed literally hundreds of years ago. And I often will cite, by the word cite, that’s C-I-T-E, means referencing. So we reference a case and you mentioned the doctrine of precedent, which simply means that the highest court in the land, so in Australia, the High Court, when it makes a decision, binds all the courts below it. So if you’re a local magistrate’s court and there’s a federal magistrates court, or in New South Wales, we refer to it as a local court, then those decisions made just at the local level, they don’t bind anything. But when you get up to the New South Wales Supreme Court or any of our state Supreme Courts, they then start to bind. When you get to the Court of Appeal, that obviously has a stronger binding. And then Australia has one final court, which is the High Court of Australia, and that app certainly binds every court on their decision. So that is the doctrine of precedent in a nutshell. When parliament passes legislation, that can override the common law. Now, obviously there are some balances, which is the constitution, so it’s got to be constitutional. And some judges will interpret the legislation very, very narrowly. In other words, if the word say, a black pen must be used to sign a document. If you use a shade of grey or a dark blue pen, that’s not black, and that will be knocked out if the legislation said that. And that’s a very narrow or strict interpretation. Another judge look at a dark navy blue and go, “That’s pretty close to black. When you scan it and copy it, that’s close enough.” And so that is known as a liberal. This is not politics by the way, this is law, that’s a liberal interpretation. And as such, it has a wider, and I’m sure some of the listeners have heard, but a very famous judge, Justice Michael Kirby, who is very famous for his more liberal interpretations of the laws to give it the wider meaning. And that’s where the judiciary take what parliament is doing, and in an area that’s really interesting, not my area, is immigration law. When poor refugees or other people, boat people under the strict harsh laws of immigration law are going to be sent to Christmas Island, some judges have shown compassion to actually interpret the words to say, “No, the minister can’t do that.” Or, “The immigration department should give them medical exemptions,” or whatever it may be. And that’s where the judges play quite an active role. But to bring it right up-to-date, during COVID, the New South Wales government, as all the state governments have issued health regulations. And those health regulations are drafted very, very quickly. Normally, legislation will take one to two years to pass, and these poor public servants are having to do it in literally a couple of hours overnight to get it out the next day. And the consequence of that is a good lawyer could probably run a horse and carriage or a Mack truck through those laws. And that’s where it becomes really interesting. In 2020, so different to this year, but in 2020, when the first stay at homes lockdown orders came, you were required to give a reason why you were travelling. Now, obviously currently there is a lock down occurring, and those rules have been refined, so I want to talk about last year when it was all new and we were challenged. My daughter is a lawyer, a five-year old Standish. She works for a big American law firm. Previously, she worked for a large Australian law firm and she phoned my wife and I, and her sister, our younger daughter to say, “If the police stops you,” and we were travelling from Armidale to Sydney, and we had a reasonable excuse, which was actually a medical appointment, so we were within the law. I want to stress that, we weren’t breaking the law. If a police officer had pulled us over, legally, all we were required to say was our name and our address, and if required produce our driving licence. We were not legally required to give the reason we were travelling. Now, at that time, there was a lot of anxiety around the place, fining people and charging people for not having a reasonable excuse. The police do not have the authority to make that determination, only a court of law. So yes, they could make the assumption that we didn’t have a reason they could issue us with a penalty notice, which is a fine, but beyond the legal bit were happening in a court of law, so a local court within New South Wales. So in other words, if we wanted to be awkward, we could simply say, “Sorry, we’re not going to give you a reason.” Basically we see you in court. And a magistrate reading the regulations, seeing that I had a medical appointment in New South Wales and in Sydney would actually have thrown it out and the police would have wasted time. Now, I’m just trying to explain the law was drafted in such a hurry, they didn’t think about all the parts. As a human being and the police are just doing their job and the health orders are to protect us, I probably… By the way, it didn’t happen. I probably would say, “Yes, I am going for this reason. And yes, it’s within the regulations.” Does that make sense?

Brendan Corr:
Yes.

Michael Adams:
There are legal rights.

Brendan Corr:
Are you speaking around the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law; the actual articulation of it and the intention of the law?

Michael Adams:
Yes, I am, but also the distinction between the people drafting the law, who cannot think of every circumstance they’re trying to cover through to the issues of which only a court can actually make a determination. The police are the enforcers of the law, but they’re not dare I say, judge and jury. That is left to the court system. That’s why sometimes, the police and another agencies will believe they have all the authority in the world and actually they don’t. They’re bound by a set of rules and they must follow those rules. And I’m sure we’ve all seen enough TV and movies to know that your rights must be explained to you, that you’ve been arrested and you have the right to remain silent, which is a fundamental part of our criminal systems. I’m not a criminal lawyer, but we all know those parts.

Brendan Corr:
I think you’re talking Law and Order, that famous U.S. TV show.

Michael Adams:
But the idea that the police can’t just do things without warning you, that obviously you have the right to a lawyer and representation. And more importantly, if you say things particularly with modern technology, where there are body cameras recording what’s happening, you say things in the heat of the moment you may regret later. And as such, it is actually better to stay silent and be prepared to give that information. But as I said, there are some basic limitations around this. I should also say that it’s interesting in this current COVID situation that I believe, and I would stand to be corrected, Victorians only had five reasons why they could move around outside the five to 10 kilometre area. Whereas in New South Wales, there are 14 reasons. In New South Wales, we don’t define the term essential worker, whereas in Victoria, an essential worker is defined. But of course, the moment you have a definition, somebody will be looking for a loophole around that definition, or it will cause angst.

Brendan Corr:
Yeah. Gotcha. So in that sort of space, what is a good law? What would be the hallmarks of good law?

Michael Adams:
The answer is it should be clear, it should be fair and reasonable and so applied to all parties who are aimed to do so, it should be targeted. It should try, and this is a very strong principle, it should try to cover the mischief, that’s the funny legal term we use, if the problem is trying to solve. So to use those New South Wales health regulations and a health regulation is what is known as delegated legislation. So there’s an act of parliament, which creates the New South Wales health system and it gives powers to the minister to pass regulations. And they are nearly always for a fixed time, so they don’t run forever. They will run for six months or a year, and then they actually finish. Whereas an act of parliament, unless it says otherwise, once it’s passed and it’s given well ascent by the Governor General, it will then last forever.

Brendan Corr:
Until re-appealed.

Michael Adams:
… or until re-appealed.

Brendan Corr:
I want to push a little further into your concepts of law being practical, pragmatic, and idealistic, the variations that are possible in a local expression. Does all of that fall from a universal concept of morality? Is that what law’s trying to capture or is that a wrong conception of what the law of the land is trying to do?

Michael Adams:
That’s a difficult question to answer because the laws through legislation, whether it be state, territory or federal of course, are passed by parliament. And as such parliament is full of politicians, and so in some areas of law, like corporate law, both parties, major parties will come together and have a degree of acceptance that they’re trying to make the economy work better, protect shareholders, protect employees, so there’s a common good. But in some areas of law, the political division causes quite a contrast, probably the area, and I said, ironically, my daughter, Lucy works in this area and I haven’t worked in this area, is employment law. And again, I am simplifying it because obviously we only have an hour or so available. In employment law, if you have a liberal coalition national government, state or federal, they tend to pass laws, which are very much pro the employer. When we have a labour government; state, federal, they tend to pass employment laws, which are more pro union, pro the employee. Now, in some areas like human rights, there’s a lot of agreement. Nobody wants to see discrimination, sexual, race, et cetera. There’s genuine agreement in that area, but in other aspects there’s really big distinctions. And each time we have a change of parliament, one of the first areas of laws to change will be the fair work Australia legislation and the framework of works. That’s where the political views will override the other views. In some areas of law, the politicians will agree to have an open vote where your politics should not play a role. Sometimes there is an agreement on all political parties to have a free vote, and they’re real at that, which is one that probably you and I would feel uncomfortable with is euthanasia, so the voluntary assistance of dying. Often, the politicians will be told, take off your liberal labour hat, and the other parties, of course, and actually put on your conscience and then make a decision on that basis. Other areas I’m afraid, the party line is the only line. So if somebody called a Chief Whip who will run around and get everybody in the coalition or everyone in The Labour Party to say, “You must vote this particular way.” But the people drafting the laws to be honest are nearly always public servants. They are doing the best for the country and the politicians may have input, and obviously they debated it, but they are advised by professional advisors. And I said, most of the areas of law I work in, I would argue the common good plays a major role. And a lot of the case law actually does have Christian principles behind it. One of the most important ones is the tort of negligence, and the judge who determined that in 1932 in a very famous case called Donahue against Stevenson was the head of the Presbyterian church in Scotland. And one of the tests was known as the neighbour test and that definition actually comes straight out of the Bible. He brought his Christian perspective of who is a neighbour from the Bible into the law of the land. And we still have the tort of negligence, we still have the neighbour test. And there are many other examples where the Christian views. However, we do live in a secular society and there’s a degree of consciousness by politicians that their faith may inform their decisions and some of their leanings, but obviously when they pass legislation, it must be appropriate to all people that it covers.

Brendan Corr:
That’s interesting. We’ll come back, if you’re happy with the idea of how your presupposition as a person’s perspective on the world and basic beliefs govern their approach to law and their understanding of it, and what is appropriate and what isn’t. But already you’ve indicated that you have your own understanding of the role of faith. Can you share with us a little bit about how you came to an understanding of the role of faith in your life and your profession?

Michael Adams:
Thank you. My father was agnostic and you probably may have picked up from the accent that I grew up in England and my mother was a Christian. She was part of the Church of England, Anglican church. And then something happened and I guess she lost her faith. I guess I believe that God doesn’t let people just disappear, but her faith suddenly changed. I have two older brothers, both of them are atheists and have no interest in religion at all, although they certainly respect my views. Even through the university age and late school had a concept of God, I say, superior power. I actually couldn’t understand how nature could be random. There are too many beautiful examples of whether it be the way bees make honey and their interactions right through to the rings on a tree and cloud formations, a whole bunch of other things all pointed in a direction that it was more easier to believe a single God than it was to believe it was just a coincidence. However, I had mixed and no understanding of Jesus. Obviously, as an historical character I was well aware and as I celebrated, and I use that very loosely, Christmas and Easter type thing, but not from a religious perspective. My wife of 32 years grew up a Catholic and her parents were Catholics and practised and both by belief as well as by cultural custom, but also in practical ways. In fact, my late father-in-law was a treasurer of the St Joseph’s Parish in Narrabeen and supported the priest there very well indeed, and was a genuine man of faith. I have absolutely no doubt of that. Melissa had let faith drift, we would go occasionally to a Catholic mass and that was rewarding, but there was still not that personal connection. Then in 1997, we were invited by in fact a colleague of mine as we were both junior academics leading towards becoming professors, both of us. He and a few other priests invited us to an Alpha course run out of Holy Trinity Brampton with Nicky Gumbel. And I went along and my wife was very keen. I have to say she was genuinely searching at that time. I went along because that’s what you do, you support your partner and I thought it’d be an interesting evening. I was impressed with the talk, the videos that they used to use were very powerful and Nicky Gumbel himself before becoming a minister in a church was a barrister. So the whole legal evidence and such things all was attractive to me. I also loved the fellowship. We had a meal together, we chatted and these people didn’t seem to have two heads. They seemed quite normal, which is quite a thing. Anyway, we did the Alpha course, and in about week five, week six something significant happened. I had a secretary who happened to be the same age as me mum and I was rushing out of my office in Sydney. I was at UTS then, and I said to Shirley, “How are your grandchildren going?” It was literally just I’m walking out the door, I have no idea why it popped into my head. I had two little girls at that time who were in primary school and somehow I just reached down, and Shirley had twins. And she said, “Michael, I haven’t spoken to the twins nor my daughter or son-in-law for three months.” And I felt so selfish that I had not picked up that this major thing was happening in her life. And I don’t know what got in my head and I said, “Shirley, I will pray for you tomorrow.”

Brendan Corr:
Wow.

Michael Adams:
That night, I’d been reading a book called Betrayed by Stan Telchin, which is about the struggle of a Jewish man trying to understand where Jesus fits into the world. That book provided for me a lot of answers to questions I had during Alpha. And at about 11 o’clock at night, I turned to my wife in bed and said, “Would you pray for my forgiveness and my salvation.” Melissa prayed a beautiful prayer and at least all I was able to do is mumble amen, but basically, I accepted I was a sinner. I accepted that the only way for salvation was to accept Jesus Christ in my life, and I went to sleep. At about 5:00 AM, I had the vivid dream of Jesus Christ I could ever imagine. Now, this is a complex story and beyond our time. It has now been written as a chapter in a book and I’m happy to give you the reference to that book. My testimony has been now formally recorded and is actually for sale at Koorong as part of a number of series of testimonies. But the point I want the listeners to hear is I was amazingly converted by that dream. And a bit like… Now we live in Waroo, New South Wales. I’m used to beef cattle being seared, and so there’s a marking put on the cattle, so you know who it belongs to. Well, God seared my heart with faith, and from that moment, I absolutely believed and it has not changed ever since. I woke up, I had tears pouring down my eyes, my face, and I woke my wife up who’s not a morning person and said the immortal words, “Darling, are you awake?” And of course she said, “I am now.” I shared my experience and she was ecstatic for me and a bit disappointed because she was still searching. She had a different experience, I must say a few weeks later in church, but I had this amazing conversion. The end of the story is when I walked into work the next morning, Shirley had the biggest smile on her face and she said, “Michael, did you pray for me?” And it was literally like an accusation. I said, “Shirley, yes I did.” Then she said, “My daughter phoned last night and we’ve completely reconciled. And can I have the day off to be with the grandchildren?” How could I say no? So God blessed me in such an amazing way through a third party, and that has been experienced since 1997 and we’ve seen it many, many times. I’m not sure if I shared it before, in 2010, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma stage four, which means mostly you don’t live. I was given between three months and six months to live, and my wife and I both felt that such a major tragedy could shake our faith. All I can say is, one, I’m here and it’s 2021, so obviously the medication did work, the chemotherapy and the radiation, but much more importantly, my faith grew exponentially, my reading the Bible, my closeness to Jesus. And if I can survive that, I can survive anything. And so for us, it was a real testament to the power of Jesus. I said, I give recognition to the medical experts who were not sure, my chemo came from Germany. All the right things happened to keep me alive, but I feel God was there every step of the way. And for me, that really… my faith ceiling at salute became true in that time of genuine crisis

Brendan Corr:
That’s a remarkable story, the encounter that you describe is completely against all rationality and logic and it’s not cognitive. There is something deeper, more quintessential than that.

Michael Adams:
Absolutely. It’s also given me the opportunity to share it quite regularly in different formats, in different ways because of course, it’s my journey, nobody can challenge it. People could say they don’t believe in God and they don’t believe in Jesus, they don’t believe in the Holy Spirit. But I can demonstrate personally directly that I had an experience of Jesus Christ. I know I could never have got through the mental anguish in that period. If I may share one last thing is, my wife suffered when she was doing HSC, her mother died of a stroke and that’s traumatic for anyone at such a tender age. Our biggest fear was that our child would have to go through that same experience. Lucy was in year 12 when I had my cancer.

Brendan Corr:
Oh, dear. How incredibly significant is that?

Michael Adams:
She studied very hard and I’m very proud, she’s a practising lawyer in a big firm. My younger daughter was in year 10. Jessica went on to be a radiation specialist dealing with cancer, at The Royal North Shore. She actually works on the machine that saved my life.

Brendan Corr:
How incredible is that?

Michael Adams:
Isn’t that pretty amazing?

Brendan Corr:
That is really beyond belief, isn’t it? Professor for somebody who’s spent all of your professional life dealing with the logic of argument, and rationalising, and analysing, dissecting. How do you bring together that part of your faith and what you’ve just described, that transcendent and counter with a life that’s beyond our own?

Michael Adams:
Well, the first is, and it does frustrate me when people do the whole lawyer jokes. We all like a joke in all our professions, but when people have a go that lawyers are liars and cheaters and money hungry and all that, that’s really unfair. In any profession, you have a range of people from incredibly generous, and in law we use the word pro bono working for free, through to those who obviously want to make lots of money and are willing to do anything to get that. But I think that’s true of, dare I say, dentists, or accountants, or even pastors and ministers. Ego, pride can get in the way, et cetera. But I actually know many Christian lawyers, I’ve known many judges. In fact, I had lunch about two months ago with an amazing federal judge who’s been a Christian and we were chatting and I actually found out he’s in a Bible study with the head of… I’m part of The Churches of Christ, New South Wales, an ACT Movement, and he’s in the same Bible study as actually the leader of that church in New South Wales. And that came up as a conversation completely out of the blue, which was fantastic. I was so excited for both friends in that sense. So I actually think, first of all, that that’s a misconception. The other is a bit like scientists, often people say, “How can a scientist believe in the Bible.” And in fact even some of our most prominent and famous scientists, including Darwin actually had an amazing belief. A lot of people forget Darwin’s wife was a major player in the church at that time and a strong believer and there’s some good writings in the end of Darwin’s life about the role of faith in things. And sometimes we take theories, and I want to stress, they are theories and we do tend to stretch them and say, “Oh, it means this, that and the other.” I think it’s always a bit more complex than that. So being a lawyer, where it has helped, I guess is in the interpretation of the words of the way I read the Bible, where I tend to have some analytical skills. I tend to use an NIV Study Bible and as such, it has all of those lots of footnotes at the bottom, which I’m used to in journal articles and actually really to get a better understanding. And context is so important. I do honestly believe that the Bible is God’s breathed words, and of course written by humans. And of course there are multiple translations and that sometimes causes angst, and sometimes we do have to go back and look at… We tend to have one word of love, and we know there are many different words for love and what that means. But I think we have to be really careful not to play semantics. And I guess I’ve come to the conclusion over the last 25 years that the Holy Spirit actually plays a major role in our interpretation, so this is not just the work we do. The last two years, since I’ve been an Armidale, I have had the opportunity to give some messages, some sermons and the work and effort that goes into doing that is way more than I ever do for a lecture or an academic paper. But I have to say, “I hope the people listening to me in the congregation learn something.” A bit like Bible study in home group, that sort of thing, I always learn much, much more. The depth we go into looking at those words, but I believe strongly that the Holy Spirit tends to focus on meaning. And recently, we’ve been working through Galatians and particularly Galatians 5, the fruit of the Spirit. And since delving into that in some degree of depth, I cannot tell you how many times in the last month I have drawn on those passages and heard either other explanations or it’s made a difference, I’ve gone to do something and I’ve thought, am I demonstrating joy, and love, and patience, and goodness, et cetera. In other words, so… And I can’t think that’s just human. I find it easier to believe I’m being prompted by the Spirit.

Brendan Corr:
What I’m hearing, Professor Adams, is that there’s no contest between your rationality and your faith. In fact, there’s a complementary relationship between those things. Your intelligence informs your faith, and your faith informs the way you analyse, and interpret, and pull things together, at least in regards to how you approach scripture.

Michael Adams:
Absolutely. Absolutely. And can I just flip it the other way? In my Bible study currently and previously, we shared the leadership aspect and those that have not, who are in the group have not had the benefit of undergraduate, postgraduate, postdoc type studies still have the most amazing insights into God’s word. Just because someone’s been to university for a long time, that gives them no more right or insight than anybody else in the sense that God can equip us to have that knowledge, and experience, and understanding. And that’s one of the beautiful things when you sit around in a small group and talk about… As well as how it impacts on your life, the application is just as important. But I’ve experienced people with relatively academically low levels of education that have had most amazing insights I would have thought, oh my goodness, never ever would have I thought of that? You’re absolutely right. This should not be seen just because I’m a professor that I have 80% greater insight. Other than that, I’m happy to work hard, or try to understand, or look at the linguistic parts, et cetera. At the end of the day, the meaning can come from absolutely anyone. And that’s one of the powers of the Bible, it is open to anyone to read and understand.

Brendan Corr:
You’ve been describing a beautiful personal encounter with something that in lots of ways, if I described the word like setting you free of some of those senses of guilt, and missing purpose, and all that sort of issues. Christianity is often seen by people as having a bit of a problem with the legal aspects. That it’s about a bunch of laws that are intending to rob you of fun or of freedom. And you described that encounter on the night of becoming aware that you were a sinner, that you were subject to judgement . How do you make sense of that contrary conception of how law fits with Christian experience?

Michael Adams:
I think you’re absolutely right, a lot of people are bound up by the rules. Whether they be The Ten Commandments or whether they be the Pharisees and the detailed Jewish laws of, you can’t turn the light switch on Sabbath, et cetera. I think a lot of people self-impose their guilt and their feelings are not good enough, so it’s like a human barrier. But actually I think the rules that do flow naturally from the Bible are often about protecting us, and the rules are pretty loose. I actually play competitive basketball three times a week and one of them is a full competition where we have very strict rules, timings, the way you foul, things are recorded. That’s on a Monday night. On a Thursday, I play three on three, which is pretty casual, they’re all close friends. It is virtually like a training session. And then on a Sunday we play pickup, which is for two hours, five people turn up, and there’s five on a basketball team and you just play and there are virtually no rules. You roughly keep the score, et cetera. And do you know, I probably have the most fun with pickup on a Sunday, which is free-flowing. Everyone knows the basic rules, if you know what I mean, but they’re actually just getting on and playing. And when you get tired, we rotate and the next five go on. And I have a ball, and I love that. I’m one of the oldest players. We have some uni students who play. We have a whole range of international students and academics playing. And there really are people in their year 10 who are about the youngest. So what’s that, 16? Got a lot of 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds, 40-year olds, 50-year-olds, and 60-year-olds. That’s pretty cool. And I feel God has the same thing, you need some rough guidance, but actually the Holy Spirit will guide you. In some areas, there are areas of debate, of course, and I think we have to take those carefully. But it’s a bit like eating food. There’s probably good reasons why the Jews didn’t eat pork, and why the Jews didn’t eat seafood that’s been on the bottom of the ocean or the river, for basic health protections. But isn’t it more important that if we know somebody doesn’t like pork, because they don’t like the taste of it, they don’t like the idea of it being a pig, why would we then serve it to someone? That graciousness, and I think the other big issue to answer your question more directly is that I think people struggle to receive something for free. We’re all used to paying for something or earning it, to actually through grace, it’s not what we did. It’s what Jesus did on the cross. And I think people struggle with that idea, and I think I probably struggled with it until I simply accepted. I wasn’t a bad person, but I clearly was a sinner and I do fall short of the glory of God. And once I could accept that, and to think that one man, fully man and fully God was willing to die, who was completely innocent. He did nothing wrong, no sin, was willing to die just for me, for my forgiveness. That’s pretty powerful. And He did it 2000 years ago and He would have done it today, He would have done it tomorrow. It’s mind-blowing. I have to say the concept of one loving God for the whole world is pretty mind-blowing. But I have no doubt, none in the slight, not a shred, that’s why He did it.

Brendan Corr:
Professor Adams, there’s so much more that I’d like to ask you. I’d really like to find out some of your perspectives around what it might mean for Christians as we start to face an increasingly secular society, an increasingly pluralist view, and the expressions in our legal sense, things that are governing our society. But would you be happy if we maybe organise another conversation, we visit some of those big things?

Michael Adams:
I would love to come back and talk to your listeners again and try and share to the best of my ability some of those points. But I really enjoyed the whole conversation to be honest. And I feel very proud to be the Head of the Law School here at the University of New England as I was the Dean at Western Sydney Uni, and before that a professor at UTS. I’ve loved what I’ve done as an educator, but I must admit I do see my value as an heir, as a son of God, and that’s pretty special.

Brendan Corr:
Indeed. In our preamble, before we hit the record button, you were mentioning how you feel that God has brought the alignment of your personal gifting into the expression of your vocation, your calling. And I’m just so delighted to see somebody operating in that space, where clearly the way God formed them and the capacities that God deposited in them even before you knew Him. And that He’s brought you to a place where He’s able to now touch that with His Spirit, and release that in a way that is of such general benefit. And a particular benefit for the people that sit and listen to your sermons and receive the ministry of your fellowship in that sense.

Michael Adams:
Oh, thank you.

Brendan Corr:
Professor Adams, I too have thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. It’s partly… One of the other things I wanted to ask you about is, what’s a good teacher? You’ve received these fantastic recognitions of the excellence of your education as a principal of a school. I’d really be interested to know your thoughts on that. But we’ll pause rather than stop on our interview together. Professor Adams, thank you so much for your time. Be assured of our prayers and our sincere thanks for your generous gift of this space.

Michael Adams:
Thank you very much, indeed. I enjoyed the conversation.

Professor Michael Adams

About Professor Michael Adams

Professor Michael Adams is an internationally recognised specialist in corporate law, governance, securities markets regulation, and legal education (especially e-learning). Michael has been writing, teaching and regularly presenting on all these topics for over 20 years. He is a Fellow of the Australian College of Educators (FACE), as well as the Australian Academy of Law (FAAL), and is also a Fellow of the Governance Institute of Australia (FGIA & UK FCIS). Professor Adams has been the former President of the Australasian Law Teachers Association, the Corporate Law Teachers Association and Chartered Secretaries Australia (now Governance Institute of Australia). He is the co-author of ten books and 30 chapters, 50 articles and over 250 conference/seminar presentations. In 2000 he was the recipient of the Australian University Teacher of the Year, for Law and Legal Studies, as well as 2005 CSA President's Award.

Photo of Brendan Corr

About Brendan Corr

Originally a Secondary Science Teacher, Brendan is a graduate of UTS, Deakin and Regent College, Canada. While Deputy Principal at Pacific Hills for 12 years, Brendan also led the NSW Christian Schools Australia registration system. Brendan’s faith is grounded in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a deep knowledge of God’s Word. Married for over 30 years, Brendan and Kim have 4 adult children. On the weekends, Brendan enjoys cycling (but he enjoys coffee with his mates afterwards slightly more).