Universalism, in its broadest terms, preaches that everyone goes to heaven and that there is no hell. Critics say it represents a break from traditional Christianity, which they say holds that heaven and hell are very real places. In most Christian circles, universalism is a dirty word.
Perhaps it's my studies of the universalism of the Founding era that leads to this criticism. But, yes, SOME universalism holds there is no Hell; OTHER universalism holds there is a place of TEMPORARY punishment, whether we call it Hell, Purgatory of whatever. In fact the universalists of the Founding era were kinda hardcore in this regard. A typical "term" in Purgatory for many of them, I've read somewhere (forgive me for not getting you the footnote) was one thousand years.
As Benjamin Rush, a Trinitarian Universalist put in "Travels through Life," his autobiography:
At Dr. Finley's school, I was more fully instructed in those principles by means of the Westminster catechism. I retained them without any affection for them until about the year 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher's controversy with the Calvinists, in favor of the universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Rev. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient Calvinistical and my newly adopted Arminian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White, Chauncey and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of those authors future punishment, and of long duration.
Heretofore I've operated under the assumption that though belief in universalism was some kind of "heresy" in orthodox Christianity, the issue wasn't as central as, say, belief in the Trinity. Indeed, a trinitarian-universalist could still be "Christian" according to orthodox standards whereas a unitarian-universalist could not. So for instance, even though Benjamin Rush and John Adams were both universalists and both THOUGHT of themselves as "Christians," Rush was a "Christian," but Adams was not. I still believe this (though for personal reasons, I don't determine who is a "Christian," who isn't; if you call yourself one, you are one, regardless of WHAT you believe or how you live your life).
But apparently, not all operate under the assumption that eternal damnation is less central than the Trinity in determining "real Christianity."
As Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition was reported saying:
"We’re talking about the big things here, things that have been historically defined as orthodox, " he said. "I have a high degree of confidence in what God is saying and what we can understand."
Though many things that separate Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians, “this isn’t one of them," Taylor said. "We’ve historically agreed on many things, the person of Christ, heaven and hell. This isn’t a peripheral academic debate. What Rob Bell is talking about gets to the heart of Christianity.”
I know the idea of some kind of rewards and punishments is at the heart of orthodox Christianity, but I have a hard time believing Hell, eternal damnation (as opposed to a LONG time) is one.