I recently read an interesting article by Tom Greggs on Origen's universalism ("Exclusivist or Universalist? Origen the 'Wise Steward of the Word' (CommRom. V.1.7) and the Issue of Genre." International Journal of Systematic Theology 9.3, 2007, 315-27). The issue was how to interpret the fact that sometimes Origen sometimes comes out and teaches universalism (a well established point that needs no defending here) but at other times seems to be very exclusivist. For instance:
"Outside this house, that is, outside the Church, no one is saved. If anyone goes outside, he is responsible for his own death" (HomJosh. III.5).
Does Origen's left hand not know what his right hand is doing? According to Greggs the key is found in Origen's idea that
"Paul [in 1 Cor 15:33f] is thus acting as a wise steward of the word. And when he comes to the passages in which he has to speak about God's goodness, he expresses these things in a somewhat concealed and obscure way for the sake of certain lazy people lest, perchance, as we have said, 'they despise the riches of his goodness and patience and forbearance and store up for themselves wrath on the day of wrath" (CommRom. V.1.7).
Greggs argues that
"Origen suggests here that St Paul is acting as 'a wise steward of the word' to conceal and obscure the goodness of God in the universalist passages which have preceded 1 Cor 15:33 in order that the weaker are not tempted to fall back into sin" (Greggs, 321).
In other words - Origen, like Paul himself, is a pastoral theologian and biblical exegete. There are contexts in which bringing out the full glory of universalist hope is appropriate and contexts in which it is not (lest it elicit the wholly inappropriate response, "If I am going to be saved whatever I do then I think I'll keep on sinning!").
We can learn wisdom from Origen here. I worry that some Christian universalists are so dazzled by the vision of final ultimate reconciliation (and it is easy to understand why they are) that they are not always wise in their deployment of the notion. They feel that we must tell the world that they will all be saved and do our best to tone down Hell. I disagree. Sometimes, like the OT prophets or like Jesus himself, we need to warn of the coming warth without making mention of restoration after destruction. Sometimes we need to speak of both wrath and restoration, and sometimes simply comfort the broken with the good news of restoration. May God's Spirit grant us to wisdom to know how to speak in the specific situations we face.