Changing Signs of Truth is a valuable contribution to the academic and semi-academic literature on cultural semiotics, if only because it portrays in a thorough and engaging way the glaring problem of how language is intertwined with culture and, more importantly, how language evolves over time. Interestingly, the same kinds of points Downing makes about contemporary Western culture would be a no-brainer for missiologists having to contend with the challenges of making the gospel intelligible to non-Westerners. It is a genuine sign of our current age that the controversy over language and culture has come down to whether the meanings of religious terms are somehow set in stone, as the more orthodox instinctively assume, or whether they are simply episodic types of language games, conditioned and rendered contingent by present-day attitudes and practices.
The view that these meanings are set in stone, as I have remarked extensively in my earlier work The Next Reformation (2004), relies on a pseudo-universalistic and hyperrationalistic version of epistemology that is neither biblical nor ancient but thoroughly modern, dating no later than the late eighteenth century. The notion that they are merely historically contingent amounts to an uncritical and inconsistent form of intellectual laissez-faire fostered during the late industrial era by social scientists who somehow fell under the delusion that they were in the business of solving classical problems of theoretical knowledge, when in fact they were merely substituting a naive descriptivism for what used to count as a philosophy of knowledge.
God will undoubtedly not allow the future of Christianity to endure as an interminable mud fight between shallow inerrantists and smug liberals. But in the meantime, readers will take away from this little book some genuine insights in how to rise above the fray.