On the subject of “evangelical universalism”, I would highly recommend George Hunsinger’s excellent essay “Hellfire and Damnation: Four Ancient and Modern Views” (in Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], pp.226-249).
After reviewing the traditional belief in eternal punishment (represented by Augustine), the “minority report” of universal salvation (represented by Origen), the modern modification of the traditional view known as annihilationism (e.g. F. F. Bruce and John Stott), and what he calls “reverent agnosticism” (especially Karl Barth, for whom universal salvation cannot be deduced, but neither can it be excluded, and for which we may and must pray, hope, and trust), Hunsinger concludes in “The Locus of Mystery”:
“The strong view of hell as represented by Augustine would seem to be admirable at least for its unflinching consistency and for its steadfast appeal to the primacy and sovereignty of divine grace. If there is ever to be any larger hope within the bounds of traditional belief beyond the state of the question as Augustine left it, then that hope would seem necessarily to rest not on an appeal to unfettered human freedom (as in the weaker post-Augustinian apologies), but rather on an appeal to sovereign grace. For it is indeed ‘grace alone,’ as Augustine argued, ‘that separates the redeemed from the lost’ (Enchiridion 99), and if, as he also urged, God can actually ‘change the evil wills of human beings, whichever, whenever, and wheresoever he chooses, and direct them to what is good’ (Enchiridion 98), then the church may finally have grounds for a larger hope than Augustine found it possible to affirm.
“The New Testament texts as Augustine read them would have to be reconfigured into a very different hermeneutical whole. Although the whole may have been glimpsed by Origen, the hermeneutical tradition that he spawned has too often been encumbered by rationalizing and otherwise extraneous considerations. At its best, however, that tradition has focused concretely on the cross of Christ as the demonstration of God’s love for the entire world. On that basis it has refused not only to separate God’s justice so drastically from God’s mercy, or indeed to leave the two standing in apparent, severe, and inscrutable contradiction. It has also refused to allow the important universalist passages in the New Testament to be so thoroughly marginalized by those that depict the ultimate consequences of the divine wrath. If the mark of a good theology is that it knows how to honor the necessary mysteries, then there may be higher and reconfigured mysteries that the Augustinian tradition knows not of” (p. 249).
One last point - especially for Arminians to consider: observe that an appeal to human “freedom” offers no resolution to the difficulties sympathisers with universalism have with hell. First, because human freedom hardly relieves God of the ultimate responsibility for eternally punishing humans beings who have made wicked choices. And second - bracketing the fact that, ab initio, it makes the fundamental category mistake of taking divine and human freedom to be a zero-sum game - because the notion of human freedom assumed here is far too thin to bear the theological burden laid upon it. For (a), at least in Pauline terms, the “freedom” to go on sinning constitutes a flagrant violation of the Trade Description Act; and, further, (b), as Marilyn McCord Adams insists, discussing “horrendous evils”, “Any god who turns us … over to the eternal natural consequences of our action pays us an inappropriate respect”, and indeed “would not thereby honor but violate our agency by crushing it with responsibility for individual and corporate ruin.”
In short, a theolgically dense defence of “universal salvation” will resist investing in human freedom and put all its capital in the cunning omnipotence of divine grace, funded by a HIGH Christology and accordingly recalibrated doctrines of election and the atonement.