Book review - Destiny: The Life and Times of a Self-Made Apostle, by Peter Lineham

by gabeatkinson / 12 September, 2013
Horrified as the liberal middle classes may be, Destiny seeks to empower the powerless.
Brian Tamaki is a New Zealand success story. Rising from inauspicious circumstances, he symbolises what Pentecostal Christianity can offer marginalised people who are cut off from more traditional routes to power, wealth and success.

Brian Tamaki: neither charlatan nor cult leader. Photo/Jane Ussher

Since his first venture into church planting in Te Awamutu in 1985, Tamaki has effectively crafted his own brand of Pentecostal Christianity, which since 1998 has become known as Destiny.

Tamaki is not a charlatan or a cult leader; he is a very shrewd cultural and media operator who has much wider influence upon secular society than within “Christian” New Zealand.

What fascinates is the sense of horror, terror and outrage Destiny and Tamaki provoke in the liberal middle classes. Here is religion in the raw, viewed as the crack habit of the ethnic masses with Tamaki as a combination of pimp and drug kingpin. This is not religion and ethnic populations as liberal middle-class New Zealand may wish them to be. This is religion as morally and socially conservative; religion claiming the right to offend, discriminate and experience God-given material rewards.

Destiny is not a cult, for it does not seek to shut out the world. Rather, it tries to radically engage with the world on its own terms. But disconcertingly, it is a political church of charismatic leadership and Apostolic authority. It takes an interventionist, providential God very, very seriously. In Destiny, in short, liberal New Zealand experiences the horror of the claim of the sacred.

Into this maelstrom of fears strides Peter Lineham, a gay Christian historian of religion. In applying a scholarly eye, he has written a comprehensive, balanced and perceptive account of the rise of Destiny and Tamaki.

Reading the book through its sociological lens, we can see how Tamaki represents and harnesses Max Weber’s notion of charismatic leadership and a moral authority, which is now being passed on to his son. Tamaki also represents Weber’s understanding of the ethical prophet who announces a break with the normative order and declares that break morally legitimate. From the perspective of Émile Durkheim, Tamaki acts as the totem of his church. His success is what his community seeks to emulate and access; not its god, but its symbol.

If you want to start a religion, Destiny is as good a model as any. It offers itself as an alternative. It identifies people who are dissatisfied and socio-economically marginalised, and offers them beliefs, experiences and community to overcome their situation. Its simple mythology of church and self divides the world into the good versus evil battle of manichaean dualism and gives its members a role as foot soldiers in the battle for good. The church also presents a prosperity gospel that seems to bear material and spiritual fruit for those favoured by its god.

Destiny seeks to empower the powerless and give knowledge to those often denied it. It is religion as politics in a world of mass media: the wider world intruding upon New Zealand.


Michael Grimshaw is an associate professor in sociology at the University of Canterbury.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


First look: Poké Poké
Health Minister dismisses chocolate fundraiser ban
71842 2017-04-28 09:07:08Z Nutrition

Health Minister dismisses chocolate fundraiser ban…

by RNZ

Should schools be selling chocolate to raise funds? The Health Minister says it's ok, but nutrition experts disagree.

Read more
Film review: Denial
71718 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Movies

Film review: Denial

by Peter Calder

The dramatisation of a Holocaust denier’s libel suit is both engrossing and moving.

Read more
Danish dramas versus Kiwi soaps
71634 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Television

Danish dramas versus Kiwi soaps

by Jeremy Rose

A quarter of Denmark's population regularly watch Danish TV dramas, while the highest-rating Kiwi drama attracted an audience of just over 250,000.

Read more
A film fest, a stage classic and other highlights on Auckland's agenda
71779 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z What's on

A film fest, a stage classic and other highlights …

by India Hendrikse

What’s on in Auckland: Crystal Castles, a design and architecture film festival and lots of other excellent events to put in your diary

Read more
How do New Zealanders rank as philanthropists?
71583 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Business

How do New Zealanders rank as philanthropists?

by Sally Blundell

Kiwis take little persuasion to give to a good cause, but the demands are ever-growing. How much money gets to where it’s really needed?

Read more
The fitness industry is on the eve of digital disruption
71733 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Technology

The fitness industry is on the eve of digital disr…

by Peter Griffin

As technology changes the way we do business, the effects are extending from the office to most parts of our lives – including how we keep in shape.

Read more
Seeking out San Francisco's tasty gems