This is the second of my series of four talks on progress.

The first describes its origins. Human life is unsatisfactory but our lives have been designed, by some kind of god, with potential for improvement. Sometimes we go forward, sometimes we go back, but the world has been designed for the possibility of a better life for everyone.

The improvement is characteristically moral, political and spiritual. It’s about accepting our environment but changing human behaviour. It’s in many faith traditions including the Bible and the teaching of Jesus.

I’m doing a series of four talks on progress at St Bride's Liverpool. The first was last Sunday. This is an edited version of the text. At the end there are questions for discussion, because this is what we do at St Bride's.

The other three talks will be about the main ideas of progress today (mainly new technologies and economic growth); alternative theories of progress and the growth of scepticism; and finally how the Christian tradition can offer a positive account of it. Further details are in my new book Why Progressives Need God.

There is a good article in the Guardian by Selina Todd on the tension between social mobility and equality. Written in the context of a disagreement between Conservative and Labour Party policies on education, it argues against social mobility and in favour of equality.

This post asks about the underlying values which might make us approve of one or the other, and argues that there is an essential difference between secular and religious perspectives.

This is my sermon for this coming Sunday, based on the Gospel reading’s parable about mustard.

I have designed it to illustrate two things. The first is how New Testament scholars analyse early Christian texts to shed light on what Jesus said and meant. The second is how this kind of research sometimes challenges earlier views and presents Jesus as a much more radical and exciting character. My main source is John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus. Crossan’s interpretation is disputed but I find it convincing.

Steve Chalke’s new video analyses the New Testament ‘clobber texts’ on homosexuality in the light of artefacts reclaimed from under the volcanic lava at Pompeii.

If you want to see lots of artistic representations of male genitals and sex acts, you will enjoy the video. Alternatively, if you already know what they look like, Chalke shows how those New Testament texts had bigger concerns to address than loving same-sex partnerships. The excavations at Pompeii reveal what a first century Roman city was like and what ordinary people were up to in the minutes before the volcano buried them. It is not a pretty story.